Diet and Nutrition

What are the Risks of Dehydration?

What are the Risks of Dehydration?

Children and senior citizens are more prone to dehydration, although, the problem may affect individuals in any age group. It is growing concern among health care providers as people are unaware of the complications that may arise out of dehydration or they refuse to take the implications seriously. This has lead to an increase in the number of patients, who suffer from symptoms that can be traced to dehydration.

People above the age of sixty years are at greater risk because they lose the sense of thirst or overlook it due to forgetfulness. Dehydration in this age bracket can have serious implications for their health. Due to a decrease in the level of water in the body cells, they can quickly develop diseases that are infectious such as kidney stones, chronic constipation, and stroke among others.

The good part is that dehydration can easily be controlled, and it is advisable to take action once you notice the signs and symptoms. Prolonged or chronic dehydration can have serious effect on bodily functions and in extreme cases, there may be complications:

 Heat injury

When the body is exposed to extreme physical conditions like rigorous exercise, hiking, cycling, physical work or exposure to the sun for a prolonged period, the body cells start losing water rapidly. The process is accelerated by sweat and excessive use of stored energy. If the level of fluids in the body is not replenished in time, it may lead to heat cramps followed by exhaustion. In extreme conditions, it may cause a heat stroke. 

Swollen Brain

In cases of severe dehydration, the body may lose a lot of fluids by vomiting or excessive sweating. Along with water, sodium levels are also affected by dehydration. This can cause an electrolyte imbalance in the cells. Salts are required to maintain the level of fluids in the cells. Inadequate amounts of sodium can set in the process of reverse osmosis, where cells try to regain the lost fluid by absorbing it from their surrounding environment. This process may cause the cells to swell to the point of bursting. In extreme instances of dehydration, the brain cells may be affected by these phenomena, also known as cerebral edema. It can be extremely dangerous. It can affect brain functioning and can even be fatal.


Electrical signals are carried from one cell to another with the help of electrolytes. As discussed earlier, dehydration can affect the sodium levels in the body as salt is lost along with water due to excessive perspiration or vomiting. This can lead to electrolyte imbalance; any such imbalance causes a mixing of the standard electrical messages. Electrolyte imbalance is an established cause of seizures. A seizure may cause loss of consciousness or involuntary muscle contractions.

Blood volume shock being low

When it comes to dangers of dehydration, this is one of the worst effects and can threaten your life. When the water level in the body cells depletes it affects the blood volume. Adequate blood volume is required by the heart to pump nutrients to various body organs; low blood volume due to dehydration mounts the pressure on the heart. To maintain the normal functioning of the body, it starts pumping blood at a higher rate leading to a rise in blood pressure and a fall in the levels of oxygen in the blood. In extreme conditions, it may cause a stroke. 

Kidney Failure, Coma, and Death

Any depletion in the water levels in the body affects the normal functioning of the kidneys that require water to process and flush out waste from the body. Dehydration can lead to frequent infections of the kidney and stone formation.

In rare instances, extreme dehydration of body cells may lead to coma and even death.

Risk Factors


Children and infants are at a greater risk of experiencing dehydration simply because their 70% of their body is comprised of water and they have higher metabolic rates. They require more volume of water to maintain a proportional balance within their body cells. Their immune systems are weak and more prone to diseases like diarrhea; all these factors increase susceptibility to dehydration. 

Older adults

Various reasons can make you experience dehydration as you grow old. The natural ability of the body to retain water is reduced, while, the sense of thirsty is not sharp as it used to; these factors can lead to dehydration. The body also develops other ailments like kidney problems and diabetes that can cause dehydration. The response to changes in temperature also declines with age; this can also lead to a greater loss of fluids by the body cells. 

Those with chronic diseases

Some conditions can make one vulnerable to dehydration such as diabetes, heart failure, kidney failure, sore throat and cold. Frequent urination, excessive sweating and the loss of appetite that result as a side-effect to these ailments can cause dehydration.


People who perform rigorous exercise can easily be dehydrated if they are doing it in a climate that is humid and the altitude is high. Climbing mountains and cycling can be more dangerous when it comes to dehydration. Exercising for an extended period means that you will stay dehydrated for a longer period, thus, the levels of fluid should be regularly replenished. 

High altitudes

Those who live in high altitudes areas are at greater risk of becoming dehydrated. At these heights, air pressure is low resulting in rapid loss of water from the skin surface and lungs. Humidity in these areas is also low, further accelerating dehydration. Dehydration mainly occurs because the body normally tries to adjust to the environment by breathing slowly and urinating frequently which adds up to the increased loss of water. 

Working, exercising in hot, humid conditions

There is an increase in the risk of becoming dehydrated if you are doing vigorous activities in a hot and humid climate. The sweat does not evaporate quickly in this weather leading to an increase in body temperature; when the body does not cool optimally, the brain continues to send signals of more profuse sweating to regulate the temperature. This cycle can cause severe dehydration.