Dehydration is the lack of sufficient water in the body. The human body requires a certain amount of water relative to weight in order to function.
Causes of Dehydration
The basic mechanism of becoming dehydrated is losing more water than you are replacing. Doing so will cause you to become dehydrated.
There are some common ways for this to happen, however.
One of the most frequent causes of dehydration is physical exertion, especially in hot environments. Playing sports, working, exercising, or simply being out in the heat can dehydrate you if you sweat more water than you drink.
Excessive diarrhea or excessive vomiting can also dehydrate you. In cases, the body is expelling water before it can even absorb it.
A fever can cause you to become dehydrated. The higher the fever, the worse the dehydration may be. Fevers are also usually the result of illness, which may cause you to be disinclined to eat or drink.
Excessive urination can also cause dehydration. While this is not a problem for most, diabetics as well as people taking diuretic medications may become dehydrated through urination.
Signs of mild or moderate dehydration include the following.
- Dry mouth
- Infrequent urination
- Dark yellow urine
- Dehydration headache, where brain volume shrinks, causing pain
- Muscle cramps
Severe dehydration is much more serious and can present additional symptoms.
- Dry skin
- Fatigue or sleepiness
- Rapid breathing or heartbeat
- Sunken Eyes
Symptoms can be slightly different for babies or toddlers. Being aware of these special symptoms is important as they may not be able to communicate their needs. However, many of the above symptoms still apply.
- Dry tongue
- Dry diaper for extended period of time
- Soft spot at top of skull
- No tears when crying
Most cases of dehydration are not severe enough to warrant medical attention. Simply consuming fluids to replace the lost water will generally be enough. While water is likely to suffice, consider using a sports drink such as Gatorade or soups with plenty of broth. These can add necessary electrolytes, including salt, into the body. This is especially worth considering if the dehydration was due to excessive sweating.
Fruit juices can be a great resource for rehydration, but according to WebMD, you should not give fruit juices to a dehydrated infant if they are vomiting or having diarrhea. Use formula or breastmilk to rehydrate instead. You can also use baby cereal or similar wet foods to help rehydrate if they are able to eat them.
Rehydration products such as Pedialyte can also be effective. They too provide electrolytes in addition to hydrating the body.
Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics which will stimulate urination. Drinks without these components will stay in the body longer and promote more efficient rehydration.
You should rest and refrain from strenuous physical activity while recovering from dehydration. Make sure you stay in a cool place to prevent unnecessary sweating.
Severe dehydration warrants hospitalization. In the case of severe dehydration, a patient will be hooked up to an IV drip. The IV will provide the fluid and nutrients necessary to rehydrate the patient.
You may also consider seeking medical help if your dehydration isn’t severe but you are unable to drink or easily keep down fluids. If you can’t drink or quickly vomit what you drink, it may be necessary to hospitalize you to give you IV fluids.
Complications of Dehydration
Severe dehydration can bring with it a host of problems which can further impact your health.
Repeated bouts of dehydration increases your risk of kidney problems, such as kidney stones and kidney disease.
Dehydration increases your risk of heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Drinking cold beverages while out in the heat can help cool you off and replenish your body’s water stores so you can sweat more.
Loss of electrolytes in the body can cause you to have seizures. Electrolyte loss is common with dehydration.
Hypovolemic shock is a condition where the volume of the blood in the body is lessened due to dehydration. This can cause a drop in blood pressure which results in less oxygen being distributed to the body. This is a life threatening complication of severe dehydration which merits immediate medical attention.
The best way to deal with dehydration is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. You should drink two liters of water, or an eight ounce glass of water at least eight times a day. This “8×8” rule can be easily remembered.
However, it is not always enough. If you are going to exercise or work outside in heat, you should drink more water before starting the activity as well as during its completion.
If you are sick, you should make sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially if you have a fever, have diarrhea, or are vomiting.