How To Tell If You’re Dehydrated

symptoms-of-being-dehydrated

Especially during the ‘dog days of summer’, becoming dehydrated can happen quickly. In fact you may not even recognize it at first, so, how can you tell if you’re dehydrated?

Here’s one simple way:


 
Seriously, it’s accurate. Check the color of your urine.

urine color chart

 
I’ve written about this subject before, and I’m doing again this morning because the subject comes to mind given that today (in my ‘neck of the woods’) it is forecast to be the hottest and most uncomfortable day of the year with temperatures near 100 and the dew point into the 70’s, which is downright oppressive – and dangerous.

I will choose not to work outside today, however many people will be out there, and some of them will become dangerously dehydrated.

 
Note: Even when a person is ‘at rest’, the body may lose approximately 1-gallon of water per day. Why is this important? Because the human body is made up of 75% water by weight. Your blood is 83% water. Your brain is about 75% water. Get the picture?

Remarkably, it is said that approximately 75% of the American population is chronically dehydrated. Now add adverse weather conditions that exacerbate that problem… it doesn’t take much to begin affecting your health.

 
Tip: Do not rely on a feeling of thirst before you begin drinking water. By the time you even begin to feel a little bit thirsty, you’re already down a quart…

If you’re older: Apparently, the older you get the more you lose of your sense of thirst – so force yourself to drink water.

 
There have been multiple times when I have become noticeably dehydrated. In fact it just happened again a few weeks ago. So how could I tell that I was dehydrated? At first, I did not recognize that my problem was dehydration. I had been working ‘extra’ hard outside for several days in a row during hot days. While I was sweating a-lot, I was also drinking water. The problem though was that I was not drinking ENOUGH water.

My first signs were muscle aches (which I attributed to the physical labor that I was doing). That evening I was definitely feeling lethargic and weak. Slightly light-headed I guess… The next morning I still felt like ‘crap’, and then it hit me… maybe I was dehydrated (having recalled previous postings on the subject).

So I then drank several cups of water. I waited awhile and drank some more. Guess what? It didn’t take long at all until I began to feel significantly better. Soon I was back to normal. It surprised me…

 
Tip: A water bottle ‘sling’ holder

NEOSLING, Adjustable Neoprene Bottle Holder

 

Symptoms Of Becoming Dehydrated

Muscle weakness, muscle aches
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Decreased urine output
Dark colored urine
Fatigue / lethargy
Loss of appetite
Irritability
Dry mouth
Headache
Nausea

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33 Comments

  1. Another super quick way is to pinch the skin on the back of your hand and hold it for a couple seconds-release. If the skin snaps right back to flat, you’re good, if not, time for a drink.

  2. I was working for a local company stacking and sorting old pallets out in a old parking lot when it was around the middle to upper 90s and HIGH dew points. I thought Kool-aid would be good BOY was I wrong! I ended up with SEVERE heat stroke. I was told I passed out when I came to I was in the ambulance on the way to the er. I ended up with having to have to full bags of saline solution and for short time was in a tub full of ice.

    DEHYDRATION AIN’T A JOKE FOLKS AND IT AIN’T FUN.

    Trust me you DO NOT EVER WANT TO FIND OUT ABOUT IT.

  3. Have a question for ya Ken, when I was actually working 4000 years ago, doing heavy construction, there was always a “salt” tablet dispenser there with the water cooler. And everyone said to take at least one with every quart of water ya would drink.

    You have any current info on mineral/salt tablets, or is that thinking gone out the wayside?

    NRP

    1. RE: the salt question – the Military in basic training, and heavy industry exposing workers to heat have STOPPED issuing and suggesting the use of salt tablets. The best thing to do is have normal water available and consume it regularly. Also, when exerting heavily, sports drinks can cause heart burn and actually be counterproductive. There are industrial ” aids ” that are made to be used in hot work environments. Consult your safety officer.

  4. NRP

    When I was in the Navy salt tablets were everywhere. Now you drink Gatorade or some other type of sport drink. You can buy salt tablets their called Thermotabs, go to any drug store and ask for them, they keep them behind the the counter.

    Juiceman

    1. Back in the infantry, the canteen holsters had little pockets on the side of them- we would put salt packets from C-rations in there, most times we didn’t have the tablets. There was usually one pass-around canteen in the squad that had salt in the water. Or you carried two canteens, one of them salted. Tastes horrible to me, have to chase it with water- – salt tabs are much better.

  5. Another thing besides dehydration that can affect the color of your urine is vitamin supplements, especially riboflavin (Vitamin B2.) If you take a high potency supplement, the excess is excreted and that can temporarily cause your urine to turn a deep yellow.

  6. Somebody please vote for Modern Survival Blog as a Top Prepper Site. We are tied for #15 now. Need one more vote to break the tie.

  7. As a bicycle rider I have found eating is as important as drinking. Drink all you want, if you are working hard or exercising without fuel for your system it can turn bad quickly.

  8. If you’re sweating a lot, water alone won’t do it. Gatorade or salt tablets are very important to maintain your electrolytes and prevent heart attack or stroke.

  9. Also remember that if you’ve been swimming (in a chlorinated pool) you need to drink more. You actually lose more water when swimming.

  10. Hi Ken,

    In the US Army, our First Sergeant woke us up in the field, saying, “If you don’t have to pee, you ain’t drinking enough!” It’s something I’ve carried with me through today. Great article. Thanks for sharing!

    Joey

    1. In addition, most people are ‘so busy’ in their daily lives, they don’t take the time that they should to re-hydrate… and drinking soda or coffee is not the proper way to do it ;)

      1. Most people don’t realize that sugar, as well as soda and coffee, are diuretics. When you drink them you lose more water than you gain.

  11. FYI, if you’re ever in the desert and are thirsty, do NOT cut into a cactus and try drinking the juice, it WILL make you sicker that a dog…..

    Been there, done than on a bet….. was NOT a smart thing for me to do…. YUCKO

    NRP

    1. Just like everything else, you need to know what you’re drinking/eating. You can drink from some cacti, but not every one. Others will cause…let us call it “explosive decompression.”

  12. Ken, thank you for your article. As a side note, thank you for your diligence in moderating. This is a delightful, insightful, helpful blog that is attended by all ages. We VERY MUCH appreciate all your hard work!

  13. Several years ago, I was having a problem with dehydration. Even though I was drinking a lot of water. After talking with my Doctor. He explained to me that I was washing out my electrolytes.

    His suggestion, which worked for me. Was to cut back on coffee and add two bottles of Gatorade or Powerade. On top of the water I normally drink. Has worked for me and no further problems.

    I would like to, and have been searching for a powdered mix. The only Gatorade I have found is loaded with sugar!

    And being a Diabetic, I try to avoid sugar. I like the Powerade Zero, has the sodium and some other needed electorates.

    Anyone have a home recipe?

      1. Thanks all.
        I’m going to give the Vitalyte a try. Really wanted a the powdered form for storage.

  14. OK This should start a riot, I drink milk instead of water. It cured many minor body problems over the years I have no ailments, take no meds and as fit as I can be and have been drinking this juice from the Gods for the last 50 years a gallon a day at a minimum. Whole milk by the way, my reading/research/doc’s opinion are “just keep doing it”. Milk by the way is considered the most healthy liquid food going, not going to argue with success.

  15. UGH! I read this to my husband but he doesn’t listen.

    I drink lots of water all the time. He NEVER drinks water! He says he gets it in his coffee! Which is absurd of course because coffee is DEHYDRATING in itself due to the caffeine.

    He definitely lives up to his “zodiac sign” TAURUS the BULL!!! Stubborn as heck!
    Gets me mad though cuz I’m gonna be the one taking care of his dehydrated self!
    End Rant! :)

  16. Ernie Pyle wrote a great essay about severe dehydration back in the ’30s. “Ike Proebstal knew about men who die of thirst. For thirty-three years he had been a prospector and a mining man among those snaky sands and bare mountains, and he had saved many a man from death. A fellow down the road said to me, “When Ike Proebstal tells you anything about this country you can bank on it being true.”…

    …”I wish my brother was still alive to talk with you,” he said. “He had a real reputation for finding missing men. But I’ve saved quite a few too. The first fifteen years we were here, my brother and I rescued at least two people a year, I guess. There isn’t so much of it any more. The auto has changed that. People drive right out across the desert, and they can take plenty of water with them. But even so, there’s somebody lost from around here about once a year.

    “You know, a man dying of thirst always takes off all his clothes. I don’t know why, but they do it every time. Years ago a man rode into my prospecting camp late in the afternoon. He was more dead than alive, and so was his horse. He said he had left his partner under a bush about five miles away. I started right out. I ran almost all the way, for I knew I could just barely make it by sundown. I knew that if I didn’t get there before dark I’d never find him, because he’d get up at dusk and start traveling. They always do.

    ” Well, I found him. He was lying there on the sand, naked as a baby. A few feet away was a tripod made of short steel tubing about two feet long, with a kettle hanging on it. I kicked the tripod down and stood there and called to the fellow, ‘I’ve got some water for you. Come and get it.’ The fellow raised up. His face was black as coal and his tongue was swollen and sticking out of his mouth two inches. He jumped up and ran at me and tried to take the water away from me, but I handled him all right. I’d brought a canteen of water and a whisky glass. I gave him just one small glass of water. Then I made him put his clothes on and told him if he’d follow me I’d give him a drink every hundred and fifty yards. The boys back at the camp had built bonfires so I could find my way back. When we got about halfway I asked the fellow how he was feeling, and he said fine, that he was sweating. So I said, ‘All right then, you can drink all you want now.’

    “He told me later that he was crazy and yet he wasn’t crazy. He said he saw me standing over those steel bars, and he knew why I was doing it. He said if it hadn’t been for those bars he would have killed me to get at the water quicker.”
    *Cactus Country, from Home Country, by Ernie Pyle, copyright, 1935- 1940, Scripps-Howard Newspaper Alliance; Copyright, 1947, William Sloane Associates, Inc.

  17. NRP: Thanks for the warning about cactus juice. Ah yess! the benefits of a high fiber diet.

    After having run marathons then fighting wild land fire in Southern California, I agree with the camp that says to drink a mostly water solution of : a little salt and a little sugar and a little fruit juice in the solution. I prefer to sip as I go rather than guzzle throughout the day/task at hand.

    This information was confirmed years later when doctors revealed their testing at human performance labs and revealed that the stomach and body processes the fluid faster if it has a small amount of sugar and salt in the water. (as compared to straight water) Don’t forget the fruit juice for the potassium it contains. Fruit juice is one of the forms of potassium intake that is palatable. (potassium in pill form tends to bounce back up when taken orally.) Along with that, small meals throughout the day as opposed to 1 big, sit-down banquet per day to avoid the food bloating effect.

    The hotter the weather, the more I try to eat fruits and salads in addition to regular foods.

    1. If you need potassium, use half of your salt measure as salt, and the other half as NO salt, salt replacer. I use this with koolaid powder to make my own mix. can change flavor easily…

  18. Ken, I now have a town job where I no longer work daily outside or in temperature extremes.

    When I go hunting in Eastern Oregon each spring, here is what I place in my icechest in my truck: 1 – 7 lb block of ice, 3+ pints of water, 2 pints of gatorade, 2- 4 oz cans of fruit juice only one soda for the caffeine. (for the late afternoon drive back to the hunting camp.) My last trip out there, it was sunny and warm for 2 days in a row. Very unusual butt it happens. My old, fat, citified body will go through fluids a bit faster than my young lean strong body of my youth. I still sip as I go and do not guzzle throughout the day.

    People from Southern California used to be identified by the fact that they do not drink much water. People that drank bottled water were either models or health nuts. These days, more people drink bottled water than 30 years ago.

  19. Look at your urine,
    It should be clear.
    You should be able to read thru it, like the newspaper.
    That is the simple way to tell if you are properly hydrated.

  20. A rather subtle sign that you are becoming dehydrated is that you will notice a “flashing” in the far edges of your peripheral vision. It looks like short “strings” (most likely you’re actually seeing blood vessels in the retina) rapidly pulsing. I was seeing that sometimes and asked my doctor about it, and he said it was your body telling you that it was getting dehydrated.

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