When that parched feeling strikes, the reason why is usually clear: You've been skimping on your H2O intake, bingeing on your fave salty treat, or working out ultra-hard. But your mouth morphing into the Sahara may also be your body's way of hinting that you have a health condition. (Make YOUR well-being a priority this year! Join Prevention and other leading minds in health & wellness for our annual R3 Summit)
"Any condition that alters your water or salt balance in the body can trigger thirst," said Dr. Laura M. Hahn, a primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
If you follow good hydration practices (your pee should be within the light yellow to clear range) yet still feel dehydrated, you may want to check in with your doc to rule out these sneaky saboteurs:
Diabetes can increase your risk of dehydration—especially if you're not yet aware of it. When blood sugar levels are too high, your body peer-pressures your kidneys into producing more urine to get rid of the excess glucose, said Dr. Heather Rosen, medical director of UPMC Urgent Care North Huntingdon in Pennsylvania.
"Frequent urination, another common symptom, will bring on thirst," she added. "This leads to drinking more fluids, which compounds the problem."
If you experience excessive thirst and urination, as well as other symptoms like unexplained weight loss, fatigue, or irritability, your doc can carry out a blood glucose test to find out if you have diabetes.
2. Diabetes Insipidus
Although diabetes insipidus isn't related to the diabetes we know and loathe, it does share some of the same signs and symptoms, such as dehydration and a busy bladder. Diabetes insipidus is characterized by a hormone imbalance in your body that affects water absorption. Because you end up losing vast amounts of water through your urine and have no say in the matter, thirst strikes as your body tries to compensate for the fluid loss, said Dr. Prudence Hall, founder and medical director of the Hall Center in Santa Monica, Calif. Since there are several types of diabetes insipidus and it can be caused by other conditions, your doctor will perform a variety of tests to determine which treatment option is best for you.
3. Your Period
During the great flood, you may feel the urge to suck up water like a shop vac. Don't worry: It's totally normal.
"Estrogen and progesterone levels can both affect fluid volume," Rosen said. "Add to that blood loss from the cycle itself—especially if your periods are on the heavy side—and the result is a compensatory increase in thirst."
In other words, when you're stranded in PMS Land, make sure you keep a bottle of water handy.
4. Dry Mouth
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is often mistaken for excessive thirst. "It's an abnormal dryness of the mucous membranes in the mouth, due to a reduction of the flow or change in the composition of saliva," Rosen said.
If your glands aren't making enough saliva, that can lead to other pesky symptoms like bad breath, trouble chewing, and thick, stringy saliva. Dry mouth can be a side effect of prescription medications, allergy medicines (Benadryl or Claritin), and dizziness or motion sickness medications (Antivert or Dramamine), Hahn said.
"There are also several diseases that can cause dry mouth, so this is always worth bringing up with your doctor," she added.
Ongoing or sudden blood loss—thanks to issues like heavy periods and bleeding ulcers—is the most common cause of anemia. Your body loses red blood cells faster than they can be replaced, and will try to make up for the fluid loss by triggering thirst, Rosen said.
"A very common yet unrecognized cause of heavy periods is low thyroid conditions," Hall said. "Up to 70 percent of people experience some degree of thyroid deficiency, which translates to a large number of very thirsty women."
A physical exam and blood test will determine if you have anemia, and the treatment you receive will depend on the type you're diagnosed with.
6. Low Blood Pressure
"Chronic stress causes our adrenal glands to underfunction, which may result in low blood pressure when the stress is severe," Hall said. "This can cause dizziness, depression, anxiety, and also extreme thirst."
Thirst is your body's way of adding more water to your blood, in an attempt to raise your blood pressure. Really, the only long-term solution for this is to decrease and better manage your stress.
7. Your Diet
"Foods that have a diuretic effect [think celery, asparagus, beets, lemons, melons, ginger, and parsley] can make you thirsty because they cause you to urinate more," said Jessica Cording, RD, a dietitian at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. "Though these foods have a lot of health benefits, consider this effect yet another reason to incorporate a wide variety of fruits and veggies into your diet: You'll cover your nutritional bases and keep your thirst in check."
You can also balance the scales by eating more fluid-rich foods, like oatmeal and brown rice, which soak up water during the cooking process.