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Chronic Dehydration

One day I when I was out walking, I came upon someoneI hadn’t seen in a long time. I barely recognized her. I wasn’t exactly sure why she looked so different. She told me that she had lost a ton of weight and she and her husband were eating really well. Then she told me about what she and her husband discovered when he went to the hospital for what appeared to be a heart attack. Their story is very interesting.
About 3 years ago, my husband was taken to the hospital by ambulance with all the symptoms of a major heart attack. Everything pointed to the typical suspect–middle-aged man with a “type A” personality, too much caffeine, poor diet, overweight, not enough exercise = blocked coronary artery.

So, he was scheduled for a cardiac catheterization the next morning.Then is when things began to get interesting. After the test, the cardiologist explained that there was absolutely no evidence of any kind of blockage in any of the coronary arteries. So, now came the questions–what caused the symptoms, is it a problem, and what can be done to fix it? The doctor’s educated guess was that it was chronic severe dehydration. He said it can be a serious problem, and that my husband must drink more water–a lot more water. He went on to explain about the physiology and mechanics, but suffice it to say that my husband’s water tank had been running on empty for so long that his body was suffering the effects.

The doctor’s directions, in addition to the usual lose weight and reduce stress, were to reduce caffeine intake, drastically reduce (preferably eliminate) carbonated drinks, and drink water–in my husband’s case at least twice the recommended daily amount to give his body a chance to catch up and get used to being hydrated.

My husband took that advice–we both have, and have kept it up over the past three years. We also made a lot of lifestyle changes. We now get more exercise and pay attention to what we eat and how we eat. It took a while to develop the “water habit,” but by being conscious of our consumption, we’ve noticed a difference in how we feel when we drink enough or don’t drink enough water.

We also found that drinking enough water really does help with other things like losing weight. My husband has lost over 25 pounds, and I’ve lost over 70. So now we get much better reports on annual physicals. Such a simple thing that is easy to overlook, but it can and has made a big difference for both of us.
Hearing her story, I was jazzed about drinking more water and set a goal to do so. I’ve been vigilant about drinking water at least 8-10 cups of water a day for many months. Are you drinking enough water every day?

Comments Please

What are your biggest challenges around drinking water? Let us hear your story.

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  1. Stan Gatherum says:

    I recently would up in the ER with acute renal failure. They could find no other causes but chronic systemic dehydration. I had been consuming caffeine and beer for quite awhile. Believe me, I weigh about 190 lbs and will be drinking approximately 90 ounces a day of purified water from now on.

  2. Wow Stan! What a way to learn about something. Good for you for making that powerful decision. I can feel the energy in it!

    You are not alone – we are as a nation (world?) are chronically dehydrated.

    Stop back by to let us know how much differente you feel once your body gets fully hydrated. Cheryl

  3. Stephen says:

    Hi there, well, I have just been through 3 months of hell with what ultimately turned out to be chronic dehydration. It started with a loss of fat in my hands, the hands started to get hard and almost yellow, next I started getting swelling in my joints (in the palm side of my hand). At the same time I started getting burning feeling in my hands and feet. This began to spread up my arms!

    I went to see some of the top specialists in London, United Kingdom, and was told I was imagining the pain and that the swelling was not out of touch with normal swelling (?). After seeing 4 so called specialists I insisted on getting a blood test to test for Rheumatoid Arthritis and a few other similar diseases.

    The results came back mostly pretty normal except that my Albumin levels were high and my cholesterol levels were a little high. The doctors again assured me that all was ok (!)

    I immediately hit the internet and started looking up what high Albumin levels meant as I had not even heard of this. Turns out that high Albumin can be a sign of dehydration! Also it seems that dehydration and higher cholesterol are linked.

    I then thought about how much water I actually drink and realised that I essentially don’t drink any! I have tea over breakfast, fruit juice for lunch and a few coffees mixed in for good measure. All very dehydrating!! I have been living like this for years!

    I quickly got some mineral water and started drinking! and within a few hours, the burning pain in my hands began to reduce and by the end of the day (and 8 big glasses of water later) my hands were starting to look nice and puffy again and the red tight skin was relaxing. No more pain in the arms!

    Other symptoms I had over the last few months but did not realise were linked were unexplained lower back pain and heart burn. Both signs of dehydration!

    The swellings in my hand are still there (its only been a few days since I started drinking water) but I understand that this will go in time as the water does is magic. What is more important though is the pain is gone! I can sleep again!!By the way, I read that it takes about 3 months to rehydrate the body from a chronically dehydrated state.

    I cannot believe it and it feels like I have got my life back! Living pain free is so amazing!

    And to think that none of the specialists in London asked the most important question of all… “how much water are you drinking?”

    I hope this helps somebody out there as I am very lucky to have figured this out on my own as doctors seem to ignore it.

    All the best,


  4. Hi Stephen – thanks for sharing your story. I’m really glad you finally figured it out. Amazing what can happen to our bodies when we don’t get enough water.

    Why do you think they say that doctors are “practicing medicine”? I think it’s because they are still learning and don’t know everything. That’s why WE have to take really good care of our bodies–because we live in them and know them best.

    Good luck on your healthy living journey. Cheryl

  5. Carrie says:

    I’ve been going through years of symptoms that 5-6 different doctors and specialists have been trying to figure out. Edema throughout my body, constipation, fatigue, eczema, mental fuzziness, allergies, poor digestion, leg cramps, unexplained weight gain, stomach bloating. My waist would gain three inches in the course of a day from bloating and water retention and some days I just couldn’t get out of bed.
    I just had an echo stress test of my heart last week and the doctor looked at the results and said I was dehydrated. I had been asked about my water consumption before, but I drink 8-10 glasses of water a day, so how am I dehydrated.
    It seems I need 11-12 glasses a day (the formula I found relates to body weight) and SALT needed to be added to the formula.
    I always craved salt. Now that I’m taking 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt (sun-dried, unprocessed) with every quart of water, I’m slowly reviving. In four days my eczema has almost disappeared, my constipation is gone, my energy is rising, and I’ve lost mass (haven’t weighed myself yet, but clothes fit differently).
    I think chronic dehydration is a wide-spread problem. The constellation of symptoms can vary from person to person since water effects every organ and system in the body. I think it’s something many doctors don’t catch and merely prescribe drugs for the symptoms.

  6. Hi Carrie: Thanks for telling us your story. I find it fascinating that you were drinking that much water and were still dehydrated. Was it by chance “dead” water? By that I mean distilled or otherwise processed to exclude minerals? Your comment about adding sea salt made me think of this.

    There’s the problem of osmosis – if your water has no minerals in it, it leaches them from your body to provide balance.

    So glad you’ve figured out what your body wants! It pays to keep asking and trying things. Cheryl

  7. Sandra says:

    I was in the hospital 2 weeks ago after losing my balance and coordination in a matter of hours. I am 70, diagnosed since l994 with rheumatoid arthritis after a extremely high positive rheumatoid factor that was recently reconfirmed. Considering a mini-stroke (TIA). they did a brain scan, EKG, contrast MRI of my head and found nothing. After mentioning I was dehydrated, my primary care MD sent me to a Neurologist for further evaluation. Again, nothing. The only thing left was dehydration. I know I don’t drink enough water but I’m not thirsty and I do drink some fluids. How could that be?

    There have always been questions about why I show no visible symptoms of RA. I’m told I am unusual. I have intermittent flares where my feet and legs feel like they are burning up, some swollen and painful joints, stiffness and muscle pain. I’ve been hospitalized when I couldn’t walk or lift my arms and have had both a knee and a hip replacement. I now take a variety of medications and am treated for chronic pain.

    Turning to the internet I learned for the first time about chronic dehydration. I’ve kept copies of my test results for several years. My comprehensive blood tests are taken about every six weeks so I have a history that can be charted. I’ve confirmed my BUN levels indicated dehydration about 80% of the time! I plan to bring this chart to my MD next month. Like some comments I’ve read, I believe this condition is being overlooked by the medical community. I have three MD’s and not one caught this because they were considering my age and RA above all else. They don’t have time to go back and compare years of results. During my office visit they check my current results and symptoms unless I bring up something specific.

    I am socially connected with family close by, moderately active (an avid gardener), of normal weight and would do more if not for joint and muscle pain that can come on overnight. If even half of my symptoms are a result of dehydration and could be relieved by drinking 64 oz. of water a day I might be able to gradually increase my exercise and reduce my meds. For the last 2 weeks I’ve been keeping water in every room, taking it in the car and outside. I found that drinking it at room temperature with a straw helps get it down.

    I will continue to check this helpful sight for responses and suggestions and report back any changes that I notice over the next few months. Since we can’t depend on the medical profession to take care of us, we have to learn all be can and maybe we can help each other.

  8. Fascinating Sandra – thank you so much for sharing this information. I’m beginning to think that chronic dehydration is even more responsible for chronic conditions than I thought. Please stop back by after your visit with your doctor. Keep us posted on your water journey. I love it that you are taking responsibility for your health….instead of passively leaving it in the hands of the medical community….who is just “practicing medicine” :) Cheryl

  9. Debi says:

    Thank you all for writing here. I knew I was having a problem and now I know that I am not alone. Despite drinking tons of water and Power Aid I could not recover from this last bout of dehydration. I then went and bought Pedialyte and drank 1 liter/day until I felt right. After the first 24 hours I felt a lot better. I know now that I must remain focused on my hydration in order to stay active and alert. It is a priority.

    One thing I wonder about is if antihistamines have an impact on hydration.

    Thanks again for your willingness to share.

  10. What do you think is causing your dehydration? Let us know so we can be more aware.

    Here are some possible known causes:

    Not drinking enough water
    Drinking a lot of dehydrating beverages like alcohol, soda pop, caffeine
    Exercising without hydrating with water
    Working in a hot/sweating environment without drinking enough water

    Keep us updated. Cheryl

  11. Philip says:

    About three weeks ago a friend had to call 911 for me shortly after we finished working out at a local gym. Since my visit to the ER, I’ve been researching possible causes of the incident. Reading all of the symptoms in these submissions, I am more confident than ever that dehydration played a major role in what happened to me. I’ll share some background in case it might help others or call attention to a dangerous condition.

    I’m 27 years old and very active. I also drink an above average amount of caffeine and alcohol. The day of my trip to the ER, I was dehydrated from the previous night of drinking. I then exacerbated that condition by drinking a large amount of caffeine, including a popular “pre-workout stimulant” before going to the gym.

    Attempting to exercise, I found myself feeling very badly and cut my work out short. In the car on the way home from the gym, I began feeling nauseous, dizzy and otherwise strange. My fingers and hands began to tingle. Then the sensation moved up my arms. I asked my friend to pull the car over thinking I would throw-up. When I stumbled out of the car, however, I did not vomit but found myself losing vision clarity and the ability to keep my balance. Kneeling on the ground, I noticed all of my muscles contracting involuntarily, including most notably my clenched hands. The balance issue became worse and I lost more of my vision. I could feel my heart rate accelerating at an alarming rate and there was significant pain in my chest. I began to hyperventilate. My concerned friend asked whether he should call 911. I told him yes but then shortly after answering found I was no longer able to speak properly. The muscles in my face were becoming numb and I had lost control over the ability to move my mouth. These symptoms went on and worsened for roughly five to ten minutes before the ambulance arrived. I said, “help” a few times at a loss for the ability to say anything more and I was very afraid I was having a stroke or heart attack.

    With oxygen and IV fluid, I recovered fairly quickly in the ambulance and received two more bags of IV in the ER. Tests indicated no brain damage or major EKG irregularity. My creatinine levels, however, were slightly lower than average. The doctors chalked the incident up to side-effects from the stimulants I had taken. At the time I checked out of the hospital, I actually felt pretty well again and was understandably relieved! That night, however, I had a terrible headache that kept me awake until early in the morning and for the next week or so, I was very “under the weather” with cold & flu symptoms.

    Of course, the doctors are likely to be accurate in their diagnosis since the caffeine and other stimulants in the “pre-workout stimulant” undoubtedly had an effect on my body. I knew, however, that I had worked out the day after drinking alcohol before with similar levels of stimulant in my system. I wanted to consider what might have been different this time.

    Here’s a list of some of the observations I’ve made over the last three weeks:

    Dehydration is a migraine trigger. I experienced crippling migraines twice a week until I was about 17.

    Dehydration can deplete minerals in the body, important for good muscle function, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. As a child, I exhibited an intense craving for calcium and, as a young adult, I drink more Gatorade and water than anyone I know.

    Shortages of such minerals (especially calcium) have effects on many excitable cells of the body, including the cardiac muscle. Dehydaration can cause tachycardia (increased heart rate) and shock.

    Despite being very active (I work out often and only drink once or twice a week), the last blood work I had done indicated high cholesterol levels. Chronic dehydration is associated with high cholesterol.

    Dehydration can cause skin dehydration. I have chronic skin dehydration around my fingernails and in my hands.

    Chronic dehydration can restrict the body’s range of motion and flexibility. I am extremely inflexible despite concerted (with the help of others) efforts to ameliorate that problem. My elbow, shoulder and knee joints are frequently sore to the touch and with movement.

    There are further findings but I think that’s enough to convince me that chronic dehydration is worth further investigation. The challenge I now face is discovering the source of my dehydration. While I understand that alcohol and caffeine cause dehydration and realize that I sometimes fail to drink enough water per day, I also know that I am still prone to dehydration even when I avoid these pitfalls. Like many of the others who have submitted a response here, I know that I have to be particularly attentive to my hydration. I am wondering why that might be. Any thoughts about why I might be more susceptible to dehydration or the effects of dehydration than most individuals would be very much appreciated.

    Thanks all and to Cheryl Miller specifically.

  12. Hi Philip – I’m kind of blown away by all that you’ve described. I can’t comment on a lot of it because I’m not a medical practitioner. I think your line of questioning is very smart, though. It’s always good to look at underlying causes, try to make connections between behavior and symptoms, etc. So good job! As a wellness practitioner, here’s what I might piece together if I were offering recommendations.

    In combination with your body type, your personal lifestyle habits, and your as yet undiagnosed condition, I would consider this an opportunity for a wellness makeover….if you’re up for it. First I would look at anything you do that is extreme – like the energy drinks perhaps, alcohol consumption, your fitness routine, anything at all that might throw your body out of balance.

    Next, I would take a look at your diet and see what tweaks you could make there – are you eating a lot of plant based foods? You don’t have to be a vegetarian but be sure to eat plenty of veggies and fruits if your body type likes fruits. Maybe keep a journal of what you eat, what you do, what you think and feel and see if you can find some patterns. You seem pretty interested in this so you might just go for it and document everything.

    Also look at your genetics. Find out what conditions and habits other family members have. Become a researcher into your own self-care. And keep us posted! Cheryl

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