Am I Dehydrated? The Physical Signs of Dehydration

Do you feel thirsty?

Am I Dehydrated? The Physical Signs of Dehydration

If you do, that means that you are already about 1 – 2 % dehydrated!

What does it mean to be dehydrated ?

What are the physical signs of dehydration?

How does dehydration affect your gut?

These questions I am going to answer for you in this blog post today.

So, grab some water, sit down, put your feet up and take some notes!


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What Does It Mean To Be Dehydrated?

Being dehydrated means your body does not have the proper amount of fluids it needs to function properly.


Our bodies are made up of about 75% water. We lose water every day in the form of water vapor when we breathe, sweat and go to the bathroom. In order to keep hydrated, our body is constantly re-adjusting the balance between water loss and fluid intake. When we are not taking in enough fluids, our bodies lose too much fluid and become unbalanced. This is when dehydration occurs.



What Are The Physical Signs Of Dehydration?

There are 3 Stages of Dehydration. Mild, Moderate and Severe. Mild and Moderate dehydration can be reversed by oral intake of fluids such as water with electrolytes that are lost during activity.

Symptoms of Mild To Moderate Dehydration

Mild to moderate dehydration can also be classified as acute dehydration. This type of dehydration usually occurs under certain circumstances like extreme heat exposure or prolonged physical activity.

Physical signs of mild/moderate dehydration:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Tired or sleepy
  • Decreased urine output
  • Urine is low volume – more yellow than normal
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Dry skin
  • Few or no tears
Headache from dehydration. Photo by Steve Knight from FreeImages


This type of dehydration can be reversed fairly easily with water, electrolytes and rest. Mild to moderate dehydration can turn severe quite fast if not treated swiftly.

Symptoms of Severe Dehydration

If a person is not re-hydrated with water and electrolytes, severe dehydration will occur with worsening symptoms.

Physical signs of severe dehydration are:

  • Drop in blood pressure: this happens when a person tries to stand after lying down
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness that does not allow the person to stand or walk normally
  • Severely decreased urine output or no urine output.
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Poor skin elasticity (skin slowly sinks back to normal)
  • Lethargy, confusion
  • Seizure
  • Shock



When Should I Seek Medical Care for Dehydration?


Again, mild to moderate dehydration can be reversed with rest and fluid intake in the form of water and electrolytes.

However, call your doctor if the person with mild/moderate dehydration experience any of the following:

Fever over 101 but less than 103

Diarrhea for more than 2 days

Weight loss

Physical Signs of Dehydration
Photo by RobinHiggins

Decreased urine production




Take immediately to emergency if these symptoms occur:



Chest or abdominal pain



Difficulty breathing


No urine in the last 24 hours


Physical Signs of Dehydration
Photo by RobinHiggins



Acute Dehydration VS Chronic Dehydration

Acute Dehydration

Acute dehydration occurs under certain circumstances like extreme heat exposure or prolonged physical activity. As we have already discussed, this typical type of dehydration can be cured with rest and a proper amount of fluid/electrolyte intake.

Chronic Dehydration

There is also chronic dehydration. This type of dehydration shows up differently. You may have the same symptoms as with acute (mild/moderate) dehydration or you may not even notice that you are low on fluids. This happens because your body is trying to “make do” with less water and starts to become less sensitive to water intake.

Some chronic dehydration signs are:

Physical Signs of Dehydration

  • dry/flaky skin
  • Constipation
  • Constant fatigue
  • Ongoing muscle weakness
  • Frequent headache

What Causes Chronic Dehydration?

Causes of chronic dehydration vary, however here are some risk factors for developing chronic dehydration:


  • Living in warmer climates
  • Working outdoors
  • Having only sporadic access to water

Frequent diarrhea can also lead to chronic dehydration. Chronic digestive tract conditions can cause you to be prone to diarrhea which in turn can put you at risk for chronic dehydration. Some of these conditions are:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • IBS
  • Nonceliac gluten sensitivity

How Is Chronic Dehydration Fixed?

With chronic dehydration, a person will need more than just water to restore the body’s electrolytes balance.

If you are suffering from chronic dehydration, you will need the help of a doctor to confirm this and than have a treatment plan set up.

Chronic Dehydration Test

Your doctor may perform the following tests to confirm chronic dehydration:

  1. Skin Tugor Test: this test is simple. Your doctor will gently pinch your skin and than see how long it takes for your skin to regain it’s natural shape. This will give your doctor an indication of just how dehydrated you are.
  2. Urinalysis: This urine test is to allow your doctor to see if you are producing too much or not enough urine.
  3. Chemistry Panel Testing: this is a blood test. This test shows the amounts of electrolytes (sodium, potassium) in your body. This test can also let your doctor know if your kidneys are efficiently getting rid of waste product.blood-test-for-dehydration

How Do You Treat Chronic Dehydration?

Treating chronic dehydration isn’t as easy as drinking water. At this point, if you are chronically dehydrated, your body will need more than just plain water. A few things you may need to do:

Physical Signs of Dehydration

  1. Drink fluids with added electrolytes. These types of drinks may be necessary to help recover lost fluids.
  2. Drink small quantities of fluids often instead of a large amount of fluid all at one time.
  3. If you are severely chronically dehydrated, you may need to be hospitalized so that you can have fluids given to you via intravenous directly into the bloodstream, until dehydration improves.

Your doctor may set a long term plan in place that will be geared toward preventing any future dehydration. There may be further testing done to find out what is causing the chronic dehydration in the first place – such as addressing any digestive or organ conditions.

If it is determined that chronic dehydration is related to your lifestyle or occupation, then your doctor will work with you to make changes to decrease the chances of dehydration.

Some options may be:

  1. Track your daily water intake. Writing down how much water you consume daily. Using an app to do this will help to keep you accountable and on track.
  2. Decrease alcohol consumption
  3. Watch stress levels:
  4. Cut back on caffeine if it’s causing you to lose fluids
  5. Cutting back on diuretic meds if you are taking them

How Can Dehydration Affect Your Digestive Tract?

Being dehydrated, especially chronically dehydrated, can have a detrimental effect on your digestive tract.

Dehydration can occur from more than just water loss. Medications, caffeine and alcohol intake can also cause dehydration.

Here are some effects dehydration can have on your digestive tract:


Physical Signs of Dehydration

Acid Reflux:Lack of water, calcium and magnesium can cause acid reflux. The stomach does not have enough water to produce stomach acid which in turn causes acid reflux. Drinking water can help limit these symptoms by temporarily raising the stomach’s pH.

Constipation: water keeps food moving down through the intestines. When your body is dehydrated the large intestine will soak up whatever water it can from the food in your guts. This will make the food hard to pass causing pain and constipation.

Bloating and Nausea: overeating causes pain and bloating. Sometimes we think we are hungry, when in fact we are actually thirsty! Thirst happens when you are 1 – 2% dehydrated. The body doesn’t know the difference and the feeling of hunger may be a masquerade for actually being thirsty. To help prevent this, drink a glass of water before eating. This will help to make you feel fuller so you won’t end up overeating.

Bad Breath: When you are dehydrated, you produce less saliva. This leads to bad breath.

How Much Water Should I Be Drinking?

The amount of water you consume a day depends on many factors:



Activity levelsPhysical Signs of Dehydration

As a rule of thumb, aim for half of your body weight. Those with diabetes and other chronic illnesses will need to consult their doctor to determine the appropriate amount of water.

How Can I Stay Hydrated?

Now that you know what dehydration is, the causes of dehydration and how much water to drink, let’s go over HOW to stay hydrated.

Drink water throughout the day. This will help prevent dehydration and over exhaustion. Use the color of your urine to guide you. The clearer your urine is, the better!

Eat foods with high water content. 80% of hydration comes from liquids, 20% comes from foods. Incorporate fruits and veggies that naturally hydrate. Some examples:

  • Watermelonhydrating-foods
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries

If drinking water gets boring, get creative! Add fruit flavors by infusing fruit into the water. Lemon Ginger Water is a great change of pace from just plain water.

Avoid alcohol or caffeine when outdoors. Ice cold cocktails sound refreshing but they aren’t very hydrating to your gut. Alcohol and caffeine suck the moisture right out of you. Avoid this as much as possible, especially if you are outside in the hot sun all day. Or be sure to drink a glass of water for every drink you consume.

Avoid peak hours of extreme heat. Stay inside during peak hours of extreme heat when temperatures and UV rays are at the highest. Usually between 10am and 2 pm.

All of this talk of hydration has left me feeling 1 – 2% dehydrated!! Time to go and load up on some fluids!

Did you find this post helpful?

Share your thoughts and comments below! I would love to hear from you!



The Gut Nerd



2 thoughts on “Am I Dehydrated? The Physical Signs of Dehydration”

  1. As an athlete and distance runner this topic is very close to my heart, I coach runners and one of the things we focus on is hydration, the trick is always to balance water and electrolytes.

    I am not too sure if I was reading in a hurry but what do you think about overhydration and water intoxication? `this happens a lot with distance runners

    Thanks for good article, I will sure use some info here for myself and runners

    • Hi Sphiwe, Thank you for taking the time to read this article. From what I’ve read about water intoxication, this is rare and only one person per year, in the United States dies from this. It’s 100% preventable. Just make sure your marathon runners don’t over drink water. Thanks again for your comment!


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