Healthy Living

Recognizing Dehydration Symptoms

Recognizing Dehydration Symptoms

Key Takeaways

  • Dehydration happens when your body loses fluids more than the amount that you have taken in, especially water.
  • Dehydration symptoms will be different from small children, young adults, and elderly people.
  • Most mild cases of dehydration can be corrected simply by drinking water. 

Dehydration happens when your body loses fluids more than the amount that you have taken in, especially water. You can develop dehydration by sweating a lot, by urinating too much, or it can also occur due to an inadequate absorption of water to your body due to certain illnesses. All of these conditions are associated with an inadequate fluid intake to restore the lost fluid. Most cases of dehydration can be corrected simply by drinking water. This article will concentrate on the signs and symptoms of dehydration. Continue to read this article to learn how to recognize if you are dehydrated or not.

What are the causes of dehydration?

Dehydration results when more fluid leaves your body than the amount entering it. The question is, how can you lose water from your body? There are only three ways in which you will lose water in your body. They are through urination, sweating, and breathing out.

You can sweat excessively during a workout, due to heat, or both. Certain drugs can also make you sweat more. You will also breathe heavily during exercises. Both of these methods will enable a large amount of water out of your body. If this lost water is not replaced by drinking, then you will become dehydrated.

Peeing too much also causes dehydration. Some of the common causes of excessive urination include taking drugs like diuretics (best known as water pills), alcohol, and diabetes mellitus.

Other common causes that may result in dehydration include diarrhea and vomiting. If you are vomiting, or if you have diarrhea, then your body will not absorb adequate fluids, thus, resulting in dehydration. For this reason, patients with diarrhea or vomiting are often advised to drink plenty of water.

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

It is very important that you know how to recognize the symptoms of dehydration so that early treatment can be started. If dehydration is not corrected, then you can go into a state of shock, which can be life-threatening. Dehydration symptoms will be different from small children, young adults, and elderly people. However, the common signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a generalized weakness of the body
  • dark urine or urine with a strong odor
  • dry mouth, lips, and nose
  • increased thirst
  • inability to urinate

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in children:

  • dry mouth and tongue
  • high fever
  • sunken abdomen, eyes, or cheeks
  • irritability
  • no tears when crying
  • reduced urine output or no wet diapers for more than three hours
  • skin turgor is reduced (the skin does not flatten when pinched and released)

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in elderly people:

  • reduced skin turgor
  • decreased urine output
  • sunken eyes
  • confusion
  • dizziness or headaches
  • dry mouth and tongue
  • rapid heart rate
  • low blood pressure
  • inability to sweat or produce tears

The most common cause of dehydration in the elderly group is the drugs that they are taking.

Classifying Dehydration

Dehydration can be classified into mild, moderate, and severe dehydration depending on the severity. The symptoms will vary from one category to another.

1. Mild Dehydration

Mild dehydration symptoms appear when you lose 2% to 3% of your total body water. The symptoms of mild dehydration include:

  • increased thirst
  • headache
  • dry mucous membranes
  • slightly reduced urine output
  • dark yellow urine
  • loss of appetite
  • constipation
  • tiredness
  • dry skin

2. Moderate Dehydration

Symptoms of moderated dehydration appear when you do not restore the lost water while in the stage of mild dehydration. In this stage, your body loses up to about 5% to 6% of your total body water.

The signs and symptoms of moderate dehydration include:

  • little to no urine output
  • sunken eyes
  • increased heart rate
  • reduced sweating
  • rapid breathing
  • high body temperature
  • muscle cramps
  • fatigability or tiredness
  • nausea
  • tingling sensation of the hands and feet

3. Severe Dehydration

This stage is very critical, wherein your body loses 9% of your total body water. People with severe dehydration can go into a stage of shock at any moment. The signs and symptoms of severe dehydration include those of moderate dehydration plus one or more of the following:

  • rapid pulse
  • no tear production
  • rapid, shallow breathing
  • low blood pressure
  • muscle spasms
  • dry skin
  • impaired vision
  • confusion
  • seizures
  • coma
  • chest or abdominal pain
  • reduced skin turgor

Diagnosing Dehydration

If your symptoms show severe dehydration, do not waste time and seek medical attention as soon as possible at the nearest hospital. On the other hand, if your symptoms are mild or moderate, you can opt for an outpatient consultation with your doctor. The following are some information to help you prepare at your doctor's appointment:

  1. Prepare a list of the symptoms that you have experienced to avoid forgetting them during your doctor's visit.
  2. Tell your doctor when the symptoms began, e.g., vomiting and diarrhea, and how frequent you experience these symptoms.
  3. Recall any of your travels and the foods that you have eaten before the symptoms showed up.
  4. Write a list of medications that you are currently taking, which include both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, vitamins, or certain health supplements.

Your doctor may also request some laboratory tests to help confirm a dehydration diagnosis and to know the level of your dehydration. These tests include:

  • Electrolyte test - Your blood may be drawn to secure a sample for the determination of the level of electrolytes in your body, especially potassium and sodium. This blood test can also be used to know if your kidneys are functioning properly.
  • Urinalysis - is a laboratory test to determine any abnormalities in your body through the analysis of your urine. A urine analysis can help show the degree of your dehydration. This test can also check for bladder infection signs.

Now that you know all about the symptoms of dehydration and how it is diagnosed, let us see how dehydration is treated.

Treatment for Dehydration

The best way to cure dehydration is prevention. Drink plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated. You need to drink at least eight full glasses of water a day to keep yourself hydrated. The aim is to take in more water than the amount you lose. Some substances make you lose a lot of water through urination. Usually, the main culprit is alcohol.

Mild dehydration can be easily corrected by drinking more water. However, if the symptoms get worse, then drinking water alone may not be sufficient to correct the level of dehydration. The reason is that along with water, electrolytes in the body are lost during dehydration. Water does not provide electrolytes, therefore, other means are necessary to maintain the electrolyte levels.

Broth, soups, fruit juices, soft fruits, vegetables, and sports drinks have electrolytes such as sodium and potassium that will help restore the electrolyte balance in your body. For children, there are special solutions known as oral rehydration solutions, which provide the electrolytes that they need. These solutions are readily available in many grocery stores and can be bought without a prescription.

If your dehydration is severe, then you will need a hospital admission. At the hospital, you will be given a normal saline infusion to restore your fluid and electrolyte levels. Symptoms such as confusion, dizziness, and generalized weakness of the body are a few indications that you are suffering from severe dehydration and need hospitalization.