Dehydration is an excessive loss of water. It most commonly occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in. Failure to replace fluid lost will lead to dehydration.
We lose water mainly through sweating and urination.
Most times, dehydration occurs for simple reasons: you forgot to drink, you don’t drink enough probably because you’re sick or busy, you lack access to clean drinking water or you ran out of supply of water when you are exercising, traveling, or camping.
The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is: About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men. About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
We lose water mainly through sweating and urination.
Causes of dehydration
Some causes of dehydration include:
- Diarrhea: Prolonged diarrhea causes dehydration by preventing the large intestine from absorbing fluids thereby increasing water and electrolyte loss.
- Fever: In general, high fever is present due to an infection that will increase sweating. This can lead to fluid and electrolyte loss. Therefore, the higher your fever, the more dehydrated you may become.
- Sweating. We all know that we lose water when we sweat so when we do a strenuous activity and do not replace fluids, you are likely to be dehydrated. Also, hot temperature increases the amount of sweat you produce.
- Increased urination. This can be due to uncontrolled diabetes. Also, certain medications, such as diuretics and some blood pressure medications can lead to dehydration because they cause you to urinate more.
- Prolonged vigorous exercise: Exercising in a hot environment causes excessive sweating because the body uses a huge amount of water in the form of sweat to cool itself
who is at risk?
- People with chronic illnesses, such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or kidney problems
- Older adults: If not adequately taken care of, they might not drink enough fluids.
- Children and Infants, who are more likely to have diarrhea or vomiting
- People who take medicines that make them pee or sweat more
- People who exercise or work outdoors during hot weather
Signs and symptoms of dehydration
- Increased thirst,
- Cessation of tear production by the eyes,
- Decreased sweating,
- Dry mouth and lips
- Decreased urination, peeing fewer than 4 times a day (producing dark yellow and highly concentrated strong-smelling pee)
- Muscle cramps,
- Dry skin
- Heart palpitations, and
- Dizziness/ lightheadedness (especially when standing).
Complication of Dehydration
- Heat injury: Failure to drink enough fluids during strenuous exercise and profuse sweating, may lead to a heat injury. This can range from mild heat cramps→ to heat exhaustion → potentially life-threatening heatstroke.
- Seizures. Electrolytes — such as potassium and sodium — help carry electrical signals from cell to cell. If your electrolytes are out of balance, the normal electrical messages can become mixed up, which can lead to involuntary muscle contractions and sometimes to a loss of consciousness.
- Decreased blood volume: Dehydration can cause a decrease in blood volume which can cause shock (hypovolemic shock). This is one of the most serious complications and can be life-threatening. It occurs when there is a decrease in blood volume leading to a drop in blood pressure and eventually, a decrease in the amount of oxygen in your body.
- Urinary and kidney problems. Prolonged dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections (UTI), an increased risk of kidney stones, and eventually kidney failure.
- Coma and death: When dehydration is not treated early and appropriately, severe dehydration can be fatal.
Your doctor will diagnose dehydration clinically by checking:
- Vital sign: This may be done by checking your blood pressure and pulse rate while lying down and standing. Dehydration causes changes in blood pressure and heart rate.
- The body temperature: This may be measured to rule out any fever or infection.
- Blood tests: Blood samples collected may be used to check for factors like the levels of your electrolytes (eg: sodium and potassium)
- Skin: Will be checked to see if sweat is present and to assess the degree of elasticity. As dehydration progresses, the skin loses its water content and becomes less elastic.
- Mental status: To access if you are alert, oriented, and awake
Infants are usually weighed during routine visits, thus a bodyweight measurement may be useful in assessing how much water has been lost in case of any illness.
Dehydration for the most part is treated by replenishing the fluid lost. This can be achieved by consuming clear fluids such as
- Frozen water
- Other alternatives could be fluids such as Gatorade, Pedialyte, Powerade, etc.
Some underlying conditions that increase the risk of dehydration should also be treated with the necessary medications. This may include medications available for purchase over-the-counter or online, such as anti-diarrheal medications , anti-emetics (stop vomiting), and antipyretics (stops fever).
NOTE: Fluids should be replaced orally, but if this fails, intravenous fluid (IV) may be required.
1. Be prepared: Try to plan. Take extra water while attending any outdoor events especially where a lot of strenuous activity is involved. Those at risks such as the elderly, infants, and children should have adequate drinking water or fluids available in case it is needed. In the Chicago heat wave of 1995, more than 600 people died from heat exposure most of which were elderly.
2. Replace fluid: Know the signs and symptoms and ensure to drink water when thirsty. Athletes and people who work outside should replace fluids at a rate that equals the loss.
3. Clothing: Wear light fabrics, loosely-fitted, bright-colored clothing. You can carry a personal fan to cool yourself.
4. Avoid excess exposure to sunlight
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