Country singer Tim McGraw collapsed on stage in Dublin over the weekend, People reported this morning, and dehydration appears to be to blame. McGraw’s wife, Faith Hill, told concert-goers that her 50-year-old husband was “super dehydrated,” and that she “made the decision that he cannot come back out on stage.”
McGraw’s rep said in a statement that the singer was “attended to by local medical staff on-site and will be fine.” That’s certainly a relief, but it made us wonder: How serious does dehydration have to get to cause someone to drop to his knees while performing, as McGraw reportedly did? And how exactly does a lack of fluids lead to a full-on collapse?
It turns out, several different factors can be at play. The body needs water for optimal functioning of course, and lots of inner workings—like blood pressure and electrolyte levels—depend on an adequate amount of fluids in the body. If a person doesn’t get enough water (or loses too many fluids due to sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea), blood pressure can drop and electrolyte balances can be thrown out of whack.
These changes put stress on the body and can even cause heart palpitations. And if you’re participating in physical activity—like playing a football game or, say, running around on stage with a guitar—they can also make you feel like you’re working a lot harder than you actually are.
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Sodium and potassium imbalances along with decreased blood circulation (another consequence of dehydration) can also cause painful muscle cramps. Ray Casciari, MD, medical director of the La Amistad Family Health Center in Orange, California, previously explained to Health: “The body will protect its vital organs, so it shifts fluid away from muscles and anything that’s not vital."
Blood flow to the brain slows when a person is dehydrated as well, which can cause dizziness, Dr. Casciari also told Health. Even mild dehydration made healthy, young men feel fatigued and foggy-headed in a 2011 British Journal of Nutrition study.
After McGraw collapsed, Hill—flanked by other musicians and crew members—told the audience that “we’ve all been a little bit dehydrated, traveling so much,” but that McGraw had suffered more than the rest.
She’s probably right that the whole crew has been affected: You only have to lose about 1.5% of the water in your body to become mildly dehydrated, according to research from the University of Connecticut. And while mild dehydration can cause pesky side effects like headaches, bad breath, and constipation, more serious cases can have dangerous consequences, including loss of consciousness.
The average person needs about 3 quarts of water (96 fluid ounces) a day, and not drinking enough can obviously contribute to dehydration. But other factors can play a role as well: For example, avoiding foods that have naturally high water contents (like fruits and vegetables) or that soak up water during cooking (like grains) can reduce overall fluid levels in the body. So can drinking alcohol, consuming caffeine, taking certain supplements or prescription medications, or having an underlying condition, such as diabetes.
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Even stress can contribute to dehydration, since it overworks the adrenal glands—organs that produce stress hormones but also regulate fluid and electrolyte levels. Age can be a factor as well: The body’s ability to conserve water, and its sensation for thirst, both decline over time.
Treatment for dehydration usually involves a gradual replenishment of water and electrolytes, either through sipping fluids—like a sports drink—over a period of time or through an IV. (Drinking too much at once can overload the stomach and cause vomiting.)
Luckily, if dehydration is treated quickly, people should recover completely. We’re wishing Tim a speedy comeback and a healthy and hydrated rest of the tour!