Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluid than it takes in, so it doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. We lose water routinely when we breath and air leaves our body, sweat to cool the body and eliminate waste by urinating or having a bowel movement. Dehydration occurs as a result of not replacing the body’s lost fluids. Anyone can be become dehydrated, but it can be particularly dangerous for children and older adults.
There isn’t always a reliable early indicator of the body’s need for water. Many people, particularly older adults, don’t actually feel thirsty until they are dehydrated. This is why it is important to drink water frequently throughout the day and increase your water intake during hot weather or when you are ill.
Signs to look out for
Symptoms of dehydration differ depending on whether the condition is mild or severe and may begin to appear before total dehydration occurs. Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include:
Severe dehydration is likely to cause the following:
Not treating dehydration quickly when you experience any of the above symptoms can lead to serious complications. If you don’t drink enough fluids when you are exercising and perspiring heavily, you risk ending up with heat injury, which can range from mild heat cramps to heat exhaustion. In extreme cases, you risk life-threatening heatstroke. When exercising, make sure you drink water, whether you feel thirsty or not. General guidelines are to drink 17 to 20 ounces of water (the equivalent of 2.5 glasses) 2 to 3 hours before starting to exercise. You should then drink another 8 ounces (1 glass) during the warmup, and then 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
Prolonged or repeated bouts of dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections and kidney stones which can lead to kidney damage if not treated quickly. Severe cases can even kidney failure.
Electrolytes such as potassium and sodium help carry electrical signals between the cells in your body. If these electrolytes are out of balance due to dehydration, the normal electrical messages can become mixed up, which can lead to involuntary muscle contractions and sometimes loss of consciousness.
Probably the most serious complication of dehydration is low blood volume shock (hypovolemic shock). This is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when low blood volume causes the blood pressure and amount of oxygen in the body to drop.
Prevention is key
To prevent any of these complications, the key is to drink plenty of fluids and eat foods that are high in water such as fruits and vegetables. Letting your thirst be a guide to your body’s hydration levels is an adequate guideline for most healthy individuals. However, you shouldn’t wait until the symptoms of dehydration kick in to start drinking fluids. You should try to be aware of how much fluid you are losing through sweat and urinating. Drink enough water to keep up with what you are losing.
You may lose necessary fluids more quickly than normal when you have a high fever, diarrhoea, or are throwing up. As your body loses fluids, it also loses electrolytes. When this happens, you need to replace the lost electrolytes. There are many over-the-counter products specifically for this.
The most important thing to remember is not to wait until you feel thirsty to drink. You should be drinking fluids all day whether you are thirsty or not. Ensuring that water is within easy reach will reduce the risk of dehydration. If you know you are going somewhere that does not have easy access to a water source, fill up a water bottle and take it with you. As a guide, you should be aiming to drink 8 glasses of water a day. If temperatures are high or you are experiencing a fever, you should drink more.
Please note: All of the information in this blog has been taken from reliable online sources. However, we are not medical professionals so please only use this information as a guide. For medical advice, visit one of the website below for further information about dehydration.