Dehydration occurs when your body loses more water than it is receiving. If left untreated, it could lead to serious issues or even death.
Over two-thirds of the human body is made up of water and without it, it will start to shut down rapidly. It lubricates the joints and eyes, aids digestion, flushes out waste and toxins, and keeps the skin healthy.
The average adult loses more than 10 cups of water each day just by sweating, breathing and eliminating waste and this increases during the summer months.
We all experience some form of dehydration at some point but it is severe dehydration that can be much more complicated to deal with.
Dangers of Dehydration
And whether mild or severe, the dangers of dehydration closely align to signs and symptoms of inadequate fluid intake:
- Constipation – it increases the risk of becoming constipated. This can be very severely uncomfortable and painful, and may further cause nausea and vomiting, abdominal distention and bloating, and headache to the affected individual.
- Lethargy and Confusion – it can cause you to feel tired and weak and many people don’t even realize that those signs are due to dehydration. Additional repercussions include headache, poor concentration, and confusion, which provokes the risk of personal injury or harm to others.
- Altered Blood Pressure – in a dehydrated individual, the body signals the release of vasopressin which is a chemical that causes blood vessels to constrict. This causes pressure to increase and high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. It can also cause blood pressure to drop, or hypotension. Either way, if blood pressure is too high or too low, it can be damaging to blood vessels and the entire body.
- Kidney Disease – there is a heightened risk of kidney damage, or more predominately, acute kidney disease (AKI).
- Kidney Stones – low urine volume is a major risk factor for kidney stones.
- Seizures – if electrolytes become imbalanced, cell communication can become faulted, induce a seizure, and lead to involuntary muscle contractions and a loss of consciousness.
- Hypovolemic Shock – this is the result of a significant loss of blood or body fluid, and is a life-threating condition.
- Death – as the dangers increase, so does the potential for fatality.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Symptoms of dehydration vary depending on the seriousness of the situation but include:
- Mild Dehydration – thirst, dry lips, dry mouth, flushed skin, fatigue, irritability, headache, darker urine, decreased urine output, muscle weakness
- Moderate Dehydration – all of the above, plus: skin doesn’t bounce back quickly when pressed, very dry mouth, sunken eyes, (in infant – sunken fontanel, the soft spot on the head), limited, very dark urine, cramps, stiff and/or painful joints, severe irritability, severe headache, few or no tears when crying
- Severe Dehydration – all of the above, plus: blue lips, blotchy skin, confusion, lethargy, lack of sweating, cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, rapid and weak pulse, low blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, high fever, little or no urination
Factors of Dehydration
There are a variety of factors that can lead to dehydration, including the following:
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Decreased fluid intake
- Excessive perspiration
Those that are more at risk of dehydration are young children and adults, and the elderly. A young child would not understand the importance of drinking more fluids when they are unwell and so the situation can easily get worse.
Treatment and Prevention of Dehydration
There is only really one form of treatment that is effective at dealing with dehydration and that is to replace the fluids that have been lost. Depending on the age, the severity and cause of the dehydration, the best approach will vary.
Most adults with mild to moderate dehydration from diarrhea, vomiting or fever can improve their condition by drinking more water. Try to avoid drinks such as coffee, tea and other beverages that contain caffeine. These can actually increase dehydration. If experiencing diarrhea, fruit juices and sodas can make it worse.
Sick children with diarrhea, vomiting, or fever, should be given an oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte, though it is always best to consult with a doctor. Pedialyte contains water and salts in specific proportions to replenish both fluids and electrolytes.
If dehydration is severe, seek emergency treatment, for children and adults.
Regular amounts of fluid should be consumed throughout the day to prevent dehydration. Trying to drink a large amount of fluid in one go won’t prevent the situation as the kidneys will just flush any excess fluid.
During hot and humid weather, you should drink additional water to help lower your body temperature and to replace what you lose through sweating. The same goes for anytime that you are exercising.
If you really can’t manage to drink another glass of water, eat a popsicle, or create a frozen-fruit smoothie. This will increase your fluid intake without adding the excess sugar found in carbonated beverages.