Symptom Management

Hydration - What Do You Really Need?


Drink lots of water.
Stay hydrated.
Make sure you get enough to drink.
Among the many health tips we hear, staying hydrated is a common theme. For people with multiple sclerosis, it’s particularly important. Staying hydrated helps control bladder and bowel symptoms, and may help decrease injection site reactions and medication side effects. Dehydration can contribute to fatigue and cognitive impairment. Clearly, good hydration matters. But how do you know if you’re well hydrated? How much should you be drinking each day? Does coffee or tea count, or must you drink water?
You may have heard the recommendation that a person should drink eight servings of eight ounces of water a day. This often repeated idea has come to be known as the “8x8 rule.” But as it turns out, there’s no scientific basis for this recommendation. How much water a person needs varies. It depends on many factors, including their size, how active they are, and how much they perspire.
Furthermore, a considerable portion of the water that your body needs may come from the foods you eat or other beverages – including those with caffeine. While it’s true that caffeine is a mild diuretic, beverages such as coffee and tea still contribute to your overall hydration. It’s important to note that caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners can act as bladder irritants, contributing to conditions like overactive bladder or urinary incontinence that are common among people with MS.
So how much water should you be drinking every day? Generally speaking, you should drink as much as it takes to satisfy your thirst. For most people, thirst is the only indicator needed that your body requires hydration. However, some people experience decreased thirst as they age, or as the result of certain medications or medical conditions. If this is the case for you, how can you be certain you remain well-hydrated?
The simplest way is to pay attention to your urine. Urine should be pale yellow or nearly colorless, without strong odor. Darker urine or a strong odor can be a sign of inadequate hydration. Other signs that you may not be well-hydrated include dry mouth, headache, fatigue, and irritability.
If thirst is no longer a reliable indicator of the need for hydration for you, stay conscious of your need to drink. Every few hours, make a point to take a sip of water. This may help you judge whether you are actually thirsty. Other helpful tips for hydration include:
  • Be sure to drink water before exercise, as well as after, so you start out well-hydrated. 
  • When the temperature is high, drink to keep cool and to replace fluids lost to perspiration.
  • If you suffer from overactive bladder or
  • incontinence, do not avoid drinking. See a specialist to learn bladder management techniques.
Resolve to keep hydration in mind, as a part of your overall health routine.