Dehydration

What is dehydration?

Dehydration happens when your body, which is approximately 75 percent water, uses or loses more fluid than it takes in. It is normal to lose bodily fluid every day by breathing and urinating. However, your body does not function properly without enough fluid. 

Dehydration can be caused by illness, fever, diarrhea, vomiting and excessive sweating. Losing too much water and not drinking or eating enough can also lead to dehydration. Drinking fluids and eating foods containing water help replace lost liquid. Although anyone can become dehydrated, it is especially dangerous for younger children and older adults.


What are the symptoms of dehydration?

A person can have mild, moderate or severe dehydration depending on how much fluid is missing from their body. 

Signs of mild or moderate dehydration include:
  • Thirst
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Signs of severe dehydration include:
  • Extreme thirst
  • Less frequent urination or very dark yellow urine
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and requires treatment by a physician. It can lead to serious complications that include:

  • Seizures – Fluids contain electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, which help carry electrical signals from cell to cell. If electrolytes are out of balance, those electrical signals can malfunction and lead to involuntary muscle contractions or loss of consciousness.
  • Urinary and kidney problems – Repeated dehydration can cause urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and kidney failure.
  • Low blood volume shock – Dehydration can lessen the amount of blood circulating in your body, causing a drop in blood pressure and decreasing the amount of oxygen in your body.


How is dehydration prevented?

To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. And eat foods such as fruits and vegetables that contain water and help keep your body hydrated. Most healthy people can let thirst be their guide to good hydration.

Some circumstances can increase your chance of dehydration. Be sure to take in extra fluids if you experience any of the following:

  • Illness – Most people become dehydrated during an illness. Drink extra fluids when you do not feel well. 
  • Vomiting or diarrhea – Start drinking extra water at the first signs of these conditions. Do not wait until dehydration begins.
  • Strenuous exercise – Replenish your body’s fluids at regular intervals while exercising.  Continue drinking water or other fluids after you have finished. Sports drinks containing electrolytes and a carbohydrate solution may also be helpful.
  • Hot or cold weather – Drink additional water in hot or humid weather to help lower your body temperature and replace fluids lost through sweating. Drinking extra water in cold weather will replace moisture loss from dry air.


How is dehydration treated?

The only effective treatment for dehydration is to replace the lost fluids. Most people with mild to moderate dehydration can be treated by drinking more water or electrolyte-rich solutions. Drinking small amounts repeatedly is more helpful than drinking a large amount at one time.  Water is the best replacement fluid. For adults and children 11 years and older, electrolyte liquids such as sports drinks can be helpful. Products like Pedialyte are ideal for younger children but anyone can drink them. Adults and children who are severely dehydrated require immediate attention by a medical provider. Intravenous (IV) fluids may be needed, as they are absorbed quickly and speed recovery.


Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms: 

  • No urination in 8 hours
  • Seizures
  • Disorientation, dizziness, or confusion
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Inability to take fluids by mouth
Patient First provides IV fluids for adults. If you are concerned that your child may need IV fluids, contact a pediatrician or the nearest emergency room. 


You can walk into any Patient First center from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., any day of the week – no appointment is needed.