Dehydration Facts | What is Dehydration?
One of the first dehydration facts is that dehydration is a state in which your body has a water and fluid imbalance. Dehydration happens due to many reasons but ultimately occurs when your body is unable to retain enough water and other fluids (Mayo Clinic, 2018). Not having adequate fluid levels in your body is always a cause for concern.
Dehydration is a cause for concern because people who become dehydrated run the risk of developing problems, including some that are life-threatening. For instance, people who fail to hydrate properly are more susceptible to heat injury, kidney problems, seizures, and potentially hypovolemic shock.
Water is the driving force of all nature. ~Leonardo da Vinci
The adult human body is made up of approximately 50%-60% water depending on your gender (U.S. Geological Survey, 2018). It’s the water in your body that helps your cells to live and thrive and also aids with your body’s temperature regulation, the removal of waste products, and digestion (Laskey, 2015). Your body works to maintain a healthy fluid balance through a sophisticated water management system. This system, with its roots deep inside of your brain, signals the body when it needs to consume or expel water.
At the heart of this system is the hypothalamus, which when your fluid levels start getting low, sends out signals to get you to drink (Johnson, 2018). It’s this same region of the brain that tells your kidney’s that it’s time to reduce your fluid levels when you over-hydrate. In other words, your hypothalamus maintains your body’s internal balance, which is also known as homeostasis.
The hypothalamus works to regulate our homeostasis because our bodies are steadily losing water as we breathe, urinate, defecate, and sweat. While these lost fluids can be replenished through the intake of new fluids, failing to consume enough fluids could result in dehydration. While drinking fluids can reverse mild dehydration, severe dehydration often requires intervention by medical professionals.
People at Risk
Dehydration is common in certain groups of people. For example, athletes, children, seniors, and people living at higher altitudes are more likely to become dehydrated. Additionally, people who are injured or sick with a fever, or vomiting have an increased likelihood of experiencing dehydration (Healthwise Staff, 2018).
Dehydration is easy to self-diagnose. If you pay attention to the color of your urine and your level of thirst, you shouldn’t have to worry about becoming dehydrated. However, if you fail to pay attention to your urine color and level of thirst, you may suffer severe and life-threatening complications.
Therefore, pay attention to whether your urine becomes progressively darker or its output decreases. If your urine does become darker, or your output decreases, you should consider increasing your fluid intake to stop yourself from becoming dehydrated.
In the end, try to keep your urine as clear as possible. Also, regardless of your level of thirst, take steps to maintain consistent water intake. If you do, you’ll help yourself to avoid becoming dehydrated.
The common symptoms of dehydration include:
- Muscle cramps
- Rapid heartbeat
- Frequent headaches
- Dry mouth
The signs of chronic or severe dehydration include:
- Sunken eyes
- Dry and shriveled skin
- Increased heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Increased respiratory rate
- Low blood pressure
- Lack of sweating
- Dry mouth and tongue
- Baby cries with no tears
- A sunken fontanel
- Sunken eyes and cheeks
Dehydration Facts | What Causes Dehydration?
Dehydration occurs when the amount of fluid leaving your body exceeds the amount of fluid entering your body. There are many reasons why a person becomes dehydrated. The most preventable reason for dehydration is failing to drink water when it’s available.
Additionally, other common causes of dehydration include:
Diarrhea is a common cause of dehydration. When you have diarrhea, your large intestines have a difficult time absorbing liquids. Because your large intestine has difficulty absorbing fluids, the water you consume passes through your digestive system and out of your body without ever hydrating your cells.
Like diarrhea, vomiting is a common reason for dehydration. In the case of vomiting, fluids never make it into your large intestine to be absorbed by your body. Making dehydration more likely is when diarrhea and vomiting occur at the same time. While this may not be a significant consideration in the first world, it is in the third world, while getting away from civilization, or during disasters.
The human body responds to increasing heat through sweat, also known as sweating. Elevated temperatures, humid weather, high fever, and physical activity all cause an increase in sweating. Ultimately, it’s important to remember to take in plenty of fluids if you begin to work a sweat up. Concerning sweating, it’s good to know that the average person can lose over 1/3 of a gallon per hour of increased activity such as exercise (Bernhardt, n.d.).
Type 2 diabetes interferes with the sugar levels in your body. When this interference happens, it may elevate your sugar levels, which triggers an increase in urine production, and a subsequent loss of fluids (Fetters, 2018). You should speak with your doctor if you have diabetes and are continually thirsty, or urinate frequently.
Inability to Drink Fluids
The physical inability to consume adequate liquids is another possible cause of dehydration. Whether it is a lack of available water, vomiting, or lacking the strength to drink. These reasons coupled with ordinary or extraordinary impacts to the water supply can compound the inability to drink (Wedro, n.d.).
Complications From Dehydration
A variety of complications can occur as a result of dehydration. Some complications are not life-threatening if promptly addressed. However, some complications of dehydration can become life-threatening emergencies.
Some of the complications that are associated with dehydration are:
Heat cramps are short-lived, painful, cramps that most often involve muscles such as the calves, thighs, and shoulders. When suffering from heat cramps, a person’s muscles may spasm or jerk involuntarily. Heat cramps often occur while exercising or working in a hot environment. Likewise, heat cramps sometimes begin a few hours after working in a warm climate or working out (Felson, 2017).
Heat exhaustion is a condition with symptoms that may include substantial sweating and a rapid pulse, a result of a person’s body dehydrating or overheating. Some signs of heat exhaustion are cool, moist skin, heavy sweating, dizziness weakness, muscle cramps, headache, and nausea (Staff, 2017).
The treatment for heat exhaustion is the same as the treatment for heat cramps. First, when someone shows signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion, have them stop all activity and rest. Next, try to move them to a cooler location. Finally, try to drink cool water or sports drinks. If at any time, a person’s condition worsens, seek professional medical care.
Heat stroke is a severe and potentially fatal condition. The cause of heat stroke is an elevated body temperature, which is often accompanied by dehydration. When it comes to preventing heat stroke, the best method is to avoid doing strenuous activity in the heat and that you stay hydrated (Stöppler, n.d.). However, when a person is affected by heat stroke, he or she may display any one, or a combination of these symptoms: hot dry skin, confusion, anxiety, disorientation, and possibly unconscious.
When treating heat stroke, it’s important to remember that the victim must be treated immediately to avoid possible organ failure.
Do the following steps to treat the victim:
- Move the victim to a shady area out of the direct sunlight. Remove or open up his or her clothing while attempting to be respectful of the victim’s privacy. Apply cool or slightly warm water to the skin, or if possible submerge the victim into cool or slightly warm water. For example consider soaking towels, using a garden hose, or placing the victim in a bathtub to bring down his or her body temperature. You can also fan the victim, which may help promote sweating and cooling through evaporation. Should you have ice packs available, place those in the armpits and groin to transfer the heat from the victim.
- If the victim is alert, oriented and able to drink, have him or her drink cool drinks such as water and fruit juice. Don’t forget though, consuming alcohol or caffeine may increase your dehydration, so avoid both of those.
- Routinely take the victim’s body temperature. Monitor the victim’s body temperature until it at least drops below 102°F (38.8°C).
Seek higher level medical care for the victim, such as calling 9-1-1, to notify Emergency Medical Services (EMS) (Stöppler, n.d.).
Other reported complications include:
- Hypovolemic shock (low blood volume)
- Kidney failure
Dehydration Facts | Prevention and Treatment
Dehydration is easy to both prevent and treat. When it comes to prevention though, the most reliable measure for fighting against dehydration is to make drinking an adequate amount of water a priority every day. When you achieve this, you will have a good habit that will pay off over your lifetime.
First, it’s important to focus on fluid replacement to treat the dehydration. Fluid replacement may be as simple as having the person affected by dehydration drink fluids if coherent and able to do so without assistance. If oral rehydration takes place in this manner, the victim should slowly sip tiny amounts of clear liquids.
Forms of Fluid Replacement
- Water (Water may not be safe to use with dehydrated infants. Instead consider using Pedialyte, or another electrolyte balanced drink)
- Clear broths
- Popsicles or Jell-O
- Gatorade, Pedialyte, Powerade, or other similar drink
- Intravenous (IV) fluids administered by an authorized health care professional
You can determine the success of the fluid replacement treatment by monitoring the urine output of the victim. When a person is dehydrated, the kidneys hold on to as much fluid as possible. As the kidney’s retain water, urine output decreases and a person’s urine becomes more condensed. If the fluid replacement treatment is successful, the body holds water until the kidneys detect an overabundance of fluid and increase urinary output (Wedro, n.d.).
Treating the Underlying Causes of Dehydration
Identifying, sooner rather than later, that someone is battling with dehydration, the easier your efforts to rehydrate them will be. Some actions that you may consider when working to defeat dehydration are:
To move the person suffering from dehydration out of the sun, loosen or respectfully remove their clothes, and whenever possible, provide a fluid replacement to victims who are conscious, coherent, and capable of drinking on their own. Make sure the person drinks enough water (see “Approximate Daily Water Intake Needs Table”) each day.
Have people with diarrhea and vomiting change to a clear fluids diet for 24-hours. If a person can ingest medication without vomiting it back up, provide medicines that help reduce the symptoms that lead to fluid loss. Then, once a person’s symptoms subside, gradually return the person to a regular diet when they can tolerate it.
To provide cooling measures to people who are suffering from fever. Cooling measures for people afflicted with a fever may include, applying water as discussed earlier, and as an individual can tolerate, providing medications that control fever.
It should be apparent by now that staying hydrated is a continuous struggle. Not only is it a constant struggle, but it is a struggle that is made more difficult by circumstances that are often beyond our control. One of those circumstances is that when you sweat, in addition to the fluid that evaporates while cooling you down, you also lose minerals that are vital to your health and wellbeing. Those minerals are called electrolytes and knowing how to replace them helps you to stay on the winning side of the hydration game.
The Electrolyte Replacement Drink
The easiest to remember electrolyte replacement drink is one that is made using three simple ingredients, water, sugar, and salt (preferably natural sea salt). An added benefit of this basic electrolyte replacement drink is that because the ingredients are all dry, they can be pre-measured and packaged ahead of time.
When mixing up your rehydration drink mix, use a 10 to 1 ratio of sugar to salt (Hendricks, n.d.). If you prefer to use a natural sweetener, feel free to swap the sugar with honey such as Manuka honey. You can also add fresh fruit such as mango, apples, or bananas to the mix. Once you mix the ingredients into the water, give it to the dehydrated person to drink. Don’t forget; you’ll need to store the drink in a cool location such as a refrigerator if you add fresh fruit to the mix.
Dehydration Facts | Basic Electrolyte Replacement Drink:
- Open a one-quart (32 oz.) water bottle.
- Fill with a 32 oz. of purified water.
- Add five tsp. of sugar.
- Add ½ tsp. salt.
- Put the cap on your bottle.
- Shake well and drink.
Dehydration Facts | Natural Electrolyte Replacement Drink:
- Open a one-quart (32 oz.) water bottle.
- Add 16 oz. of purified water.
- Fill with 16 oz. of fresh citrus juice.
- Add ½ tsp. Pink Himalayan Salt.
- Add ½ tsp. of Manuka honey.
- Put the cap on your bottle.
- Shake well and drink.
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