Dehydration can be defined as a condition where the body loses more fluids than it takes in, preventing the body from having enough fluids to function at a normal, healthy level. Dehydration varies in degrees of seriousness: mild, moderate, severe. If the body’s lost fluid levels are not replenished soon, it can cause a wide range of medical conditions from dry mouth to a life threatening emergency.
Causes of Dehydration
Dehydration can result from a variety of different causes like:
- Not drinking enough fluids when sick
- Excessive urination
- Complications with diuretics
- Excessive sweating due to health ailments or physical activities
Symptoms of Dehydration
There are many symptoms and signs that can signal when a person may be dehydrated. It’s important to pay attention to the initial signs before they turn into severe symptoms.
The following is a list of mild to moderate signs and symptoms of dehydration:
- Thirst – for many, thirst is the first symptom of dehydration that’s noticed. Unfortunately, thirst is not a reliable response from the body to reflect levels of hydration. In elder adults and younger children, the feeling of thirst often comes after they have already begun to experience dehydration.
- Fatigue – individuals may experience feeling lethargic or more tired than usual. Typically, children are less active when dehydrated.
- Head Issues – dehydration can cause headaches and also lead to dizziness or lightheadedness due the body experience .
- Urine Output – The color of one’s urine is a more reliable gauge for the body’s level of hydration. If the urine is a dark color, then a person is not getting enough fluids. Additionally, urine output is also a sign of proper hydration levels. If the output decreases (takes 3 to 8 hours between urinations) then the person may be experiencing dehydration.
- Weight Loss – For many sports, cutting weight involves shedding water weight. However, this also means not replacing the lost fluids with enough fluids after the weight cutting is over.
- Metabolism – dehydration can cause your metabolism to slow down due to the body not having enough fluids to function normally. Additionally, a slower metabolism means that you burn less calories, which will hinder your goals of losing weight.
- Appetite – When really sick, like with the stomach flu, you tend to lose your appetite because you can’t keep anything down. Not only can dehydration be the result of not eating and drinking when sick, but it can also lead to you not feeling hungry as your body begins to suffer from lack of fluids.
- Other Signs – dry mouth, dry skin and constipation, very little tears when crying
In severe cases of dehydration, mild to moderate symptoms become more severe. For example, thirst or tiredness becomes more extreme. Additionally, the following is a list of severe symptoms of dehydration, which may require immediate emergency treatment:
- Lack of sweating and no tears when crying
- Very little urine output; dark yellow in color
- Sunken eyes
- Very dry and/or very little elasticity in the skin when pinched.
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid breathing and heartbeat
- Severely disoriented or delirious
- Loss of memory and/or consciousness
- Infants may experience sunken soft spots on the top of their heads
Treatment and Prevention
In mild to moderate cases of dehydration, slow and steady hydration via water or sports drinks, that have electrolytes, can help to replenish the fluids and nutrients that were lost. Additionally, even in healthy individuals, this same treatment can also be used to prevent the onset of dehydration. In severe cases of dehydration, individuals will most likely need emergency medical attention.
It’s important to drink plenty of fluids per day especially when participating in physical activities, during hot weather and exercising. Also, even when sick, fluids are necessary to help recovery and to prevent dehydration.