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Dehydration: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment


Do you know what the human body needs the most to survive when it comes to food and water? It's water. You can stay alive up to 3 weeks without food, but only 7 days or less without water.

The human body is made of about 60% of water. Every day humans should consume a certain amount of water depending on their age and gender [1] .

Water is required by the body to lubricate joints, regulate the internal body temperature, develop saliva, metabolize and transport carbohydrates and proteins in the bloodstream, flush waste through urination, act as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord and so on [2] .

That's why it's very important to keep your body hydrated throughout the day by drinking at least 2 - 4 litres of water. If your body isn't hydrated enough, it leads to dehydration which is harmful to your body.

What Is Dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when your body has insufficient amount of water. This insufficiency leads to disruption of normal functioning of the body. Anyone can become dehydrated, but it becomes dangerous for older adults and children if their bodies are dehydrated [3] .

What Causes Dehydration

The common causes of dehydration are not drinking enough water, losing too much water through sweating etc.

Other possible causes of dehydration are:

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea - Severe, acute diarrhoea leads to tremendous loss of water and electrolytes from the body. Diarrhoea accompanied by vomiting also makes the body lose more fluids and makes it difficult to replace water by drinking it [4] .
  • Sweating - When you sweat, the body loses water. Rigorous physical activity and hot and humid temperatures are responsible for excessive sweating which increase fluid loss [5] .
  • Fever - When you have high fever, the more dehydrated the body becomes [6] . During this time, it is essential to drink plenty of water.
  • Diabetes - People with uncontrolled diabetes urinate often and this leads to loss of fluids.
  • Medications - If you are on medications such as diuretics, blood pressure medicines, antihistamines, and antipsychotics, your body suffers from dehydration.

Symptoms Of Dehydration

The first symptom of dehydration is thirst and dark-coloured urine. Clear urine is the best indicator of the body being well hydrated.

Signs of moderate dehydration in adults

  • Not urinating often
  • Dry mouth
  • Thirst
  • Headache
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness in the muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Dry, cool skin

Signs of severe dehydration in adults [7]

  • Very dry skin
  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Fainting
  • Sunken eyes
  • Sleepiness
  • Lack of energy
  • Irritability
  • Fever

Signs of dehydration in babies and young children

  • No tears when crying
  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Sunken cheeks or eyes
  • Irritability
  • No wet diapers for three hours
  • Sunken soft spot on top of the skull
  • Irritability

Risk Factors Associated With Dehydration

  • Infants and children - Infants and young children who experience diarrhoea, vomiting, and fever are prone to dehydration [4] .
  • Athletes - Athletes who take part in events like triathlons, marathons and cycling tournaments are vulnerable to dehydration as well [8] .
  • People with chronic illnesses - Chronic illnesses like kidney disease, diabetes, adrenal gland disorders, cystic fibrosis, etc., are risk factors for dehydration.
  • Outdoor workers - Outdoor workers are at a higher risk of suffering from dehydration, especially during the hot summer months [9] .
  • Older adults - As a person ages, the body's stored water reserve becomes smaller, the ability to store water is reduced and the feeling of thirst shortens. This puts older adults at risk of dehydration [7] .

Complications Associated With Dehydration

  • Low blood pressure
  • Heat injury
  • Seizures
  • Kidney problems

Diagnosis Of Dehydration

The doctor will diagnose dehydration on the basis of physical symptoms like low blood pressure, lack of sweat, rapid heartbeat, and fever. After which, blood tests are done to check your kidney function and your electrolyte and mineral levels.

Urinalysis is another test done to diagnose dehydration. A dehydrated person's urine is more concentrated and darker, containing compounds called ketones.

For diagnosis in infants and children, the doctor will check for a sunken spot on the skull [10] .

Treatment For Dehydration [11]

The only way to treat dehydration is to increase fluid intake by drinking plenty of water, soups, broths, fruit juices, and sports drinks.

For treating infants and children, over-the-counter oral rehydration solution (ORS) should be given as it helps to replenish the lost fluids and electrolytes. If the dehydration symptoms are severe, they should be taken to the emergency ward where fluids are inserted through a vein which are absorbed quickly and aid in faster recovery.

Underlying conditions that cause dehydration can be treated with over-the-counter medications like antidiarrhoea medicines, antifever medicines, and antiemetics.

During the treatment process, refrain from drinking caffeine and sodas.

How To Prevent Dehydration

  • Athletes should carry their sports drinks or chilled water while working out and drink at regular intervals.
  • Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables that have high water content.
  • Avoid outdoor physical activity during the hot summer months.
  • Provide special attention to older adults and young children and check their daily fluid intake at every hour.
View Article References
  1. [1] Watson, P. E., Watson, I. D., & Batt, R. D. (1980). Total body water volumes for adult males and females estimated from simple anthropometric measurements.The American journal of clinical nutrition,33(1), 27-39.
  2. [2] Popkin, B. M., D'Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, hydration, and health.Nutrition reviews,68(8), 439–458.
  3. [3] Coller, F. A., & Maddock, W. G. (1935). A STUDY OF DEHYDRATION IN HUMANS.Annals of surgery,102(5), 947–960.
  4. [4] Zodpey, S. P., Deshpande, S. G., Ughade, S. N., Hinge, A. V., & Shrikhande, S. N. (1998). Risk factors for development of dehydration in children aged under five who have acute watery diarrhoea: a case-control study.Public health,112(4), 233-236.
  5. [5] Morgan, R. M., Patterson, M. J., & Nimmo, M. A. (2004). Acute effects of dehydration on sweat composition in men during prolonged exercise in the heat.Acta physiologica Scandinavica,182(1), 37-43.
  6. [6] Tiker, F., Gurakan, B., Kilicdag, H., & Tarcan, A. (2004). Dehydration: the main cause of fever during the first week of life.Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition,89(4), F373-F374.
  7. [7] Bryant, H. (2007). Dehydration in older people: assessment and management.Emergency nurse,15(4).
  8. [8] Goulet, E. D. (2012). Dehydration and endurance performance in competitive athletes.Nutrition Reviews,70(suppl_2), S132-S136.
  9. [9] Bates, G. P., Miller, V. S., & Joubert, D. M. (2009). Hydration status of expatriate manual workers during summer in the Middle East.Annals of occupational hygiene,54(2), 137-143.
  10. [10] Falszewska, A., Dziechciarz, P., & Szajewska, H. (2017). Diagnostic accuracy of clinical dehydration scales in children.European journal of pediatrics,176(8), 1021-1026.
  11. [11] Munos, M. K., Walker, C. L., & Black, R. E. (2010). The effect of oral rehydration solution and recommended home fluids on diarrhoea mortality.International journal of epidemiology,39 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), i75–i87.

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