Diet and Nutrition

Dehydration: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

Dehydration: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

Key Takeaways

  • Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in. 
  • Anything that causes you to pee a lot, sweat a lot, breath rapidly, vomit or experience diarrhea will increase your risk of dehydration.
  • Replacing the body fluids lost through urine, sweat, diarrhea etc. by drinking a lot of clear fluids throughout the day is the best way to avoid dehydration.

Dehydration is the term used to describe the state of the human body when it is loses more body fluid than you take in. Body fluid, mainly water, is lost through sweat, tears, vomiting, urine and diarrhea. Dehydration could vary from mild to severe based on a number of factors, such as weather conditions, intensity of physical activity and diet.

Dehydration usually occurs as a result of one of these causes:

The body can lose significant amounts of water in the form of sweat when it tries to cool itself if you do heavy, manual work or exercise in hot conditions or because a fever is present due to an infection. In such cases, drink lots of fluids regularly to keep your body adequately hydrated.

This can be caused by various conditions like a urinary infection, diabetes, pregnancy, cancer, stroke, neurological diseases, urinary incontinence and prostate problems. If the lost fluids and electrolytes are not replaced, it could lead to dehydration.

  • Illness

An illness, such as gastroenteritis, where fluid is lost through persistent bouts of diarrhea and vomiting can cause a tremendous loss of water and electrolytes in a short amount of time. 

Dehydration and swimmers ear

What is dehydration?

Water is an extremely important element of the body, and only if the body is adequately hydrated, it will function properly. 75% of our body weight is water, found majorly inside the body cells and then the blood vessels and the spaces between cells.

Dehydration means that the amount of fluid lost from your body is more than the amount that is taken in. In other words, it means that the amount of water moving out of our cells and bodies is more than that taken in through drinking. Everyday, we lose a lot of water from our body as we exhale water vapor and in our excreted sweat, urine, and stool and with this water, we also lose salts and electrolytes.

Individuals who take drugs are more likely to suffer from dehydration, however people in all age groups who are not using any drugs could also experience dehydration.

If the dehydration is mild, just drinking more fluids at home can remedy the issue, but a person suffering from severe dehydration should be taken to a hospital or given emergency care immediately. Severe dehydration is very dangerous as it may lead to a state of shock and sometimes, death.

If dehydration is ongoing (chronic), it can have an effect on the functioning of your kidneys and increase the chances of developing kidney stones. It can also result in muscle damage and constipation.

What are the causes of dehydration?

The use of drugs can lead to dehydration through their effects and side effects. Drugs can speed up the rate of breathing, induce vomiting and diarrhea, increase sweating and urination. By all of these means, drugs can lead to dehydration in people who use them.

Drugs also can cause dehydration by acting in an indirect way such as by stimulating people to become overactive thus causing them to sweat a lot. Sometimes, drugs can also interfere with your concentration and awareness of your body so that you will ignore your body’s need for fluids. Some of the common drugs that may lead to dehydration are laxatives and diuretic (or water) pills.

However, it is not only drug use that causes dehydration. People who exercise a lot can also become dehydrated quickly if they do not drink sufficient amounts of fluid to replace the water that was lost by sweating and rapid breathing.

Medical conditions like diabetes (which will cause you to pee a lot) and acute gastroenteritis (where you will vomit and pass watery stools) can also lead to dehydration. This is why you should drink a lot of fluids during these conditions.

Individuals with significant skin injuries such as burns or mouth sores, or severe skin diseases or infections, whereby water is lost through the damaged skin, can also get dehydrated.

Therefore anything that causes you to pee a lot, sweat a lot, breath rapidly, vomit or experience diarrhea will increase your risk of dehydration.

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

Some of the common symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dry/Sunken eyes
  • Reduced skin turgor
  • Increased thirst
  • Reduced sweat production
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fever
  • Decreased urine output

Urine color may indicate dehydration. If urine is concentrated and deeply yellow or amber, you may be dehydrated. Passing pale or clear-colored urine indicates that you're well hydrated.

If dehydration is not treated in the initial stages, it could result in serious problems like pain in the bladder or kidneys or constipation.

How can you avoid dehydration?

  • It is important that you keep your body well hydrated by drinking lots of fluids. Dehydration can generally be avoided by drinking water regularly throughout the day. It is advised that you should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. In hot weather, when exercising and during illness, you should drink even more to replace the amount that you just lost.Mild dehydration can be treated by drinking water, diluted fruit squash, or oral rehydration solutions (ORS) that can be bought from a pharmacy.
  • Eating healthy food with adequate amount of salt is also important. This is important because with sweating you not only lose water from your body, you also lose some amount of salt, and salt plays a vital role in maintaining the blood volume in the body. Therefore, take enough salt with your food.
  • Energy drinks are also good to overcome dehydration as they provide the body with not just water, but sugar and electrolytes as well.
  • Drink water before you start exercising or playing a sport and during the workout, replace your fluids at regular intervals.
  • If you are getting over heated or sweating too much after taking stimulant drugs or exercising, it is advised to go to a emergency room. This occurs because sometimes our bodies become incapable of properly regulating the body temperature when it increases and therefore, medical intervention is necessary in these situations.
  • Other than drinking lots of water, you can also avoid getting overheated and consequently, dehydrated by cooling yourself down. Cooling your body can lessen sweating and therefore, the amount of fluid and mineral lost from the body.
  • In the hotter months, wear cool clothes and avoid going out in direct sunlight, if possible.
  • To avoid dehydration due to the weather, activities should not be scheduled in the heat of the day, if possible. If that is not possible, drink lots of fluids and use cooler, shaded areas, wherever possible.
  • Those working in hot environments should drink plenty of fluids and be self-aware of their condition. In heat waves, it is important to routinely check on neighbors, especially the elderly or those that do not have air conditioning.