Dehydration

1 What is Dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition in which your body does not contain enough water or other fluids for normal functioning.

It occurs when your water loss is higher than your water intake. Unless you increase the intake of water, you will get dehydrated.

Dehydration and swimmers ear

This can happen in various situations, but most commonly during

Dehydration can be extremely dangerous in young children and people with chronic illnesses.

Clinical presentation of the affected can vary from mild cases which are treated by drinking more fluids, to severe cases which require urgent medical treatment.

The best way of treatment for dehydration is prevention through control of how much water you take and lose.

2 Symptoms

Dehydration symptoms vary on the severity, but the most reliable indicator is urine color. Clear or light-yellow indicates proper hydration, whereas dark yellow or brown color of the urine signals dehydration.

Even though it is widely-considered as the most prominent indicator of the body's need for water, thirst is unfortunately very unreliable especially in children and the elderly.

Mild to moderate cases of dehydration can be treated by drinking more fluids.

In case you develop any of the following signs and symptoms, please seek immediate medical care.

These symptoms include:

  • Lack of urination
  • Extreme thirst
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Shriveled skin

If you, or somebody you care for suffers from diarrhea, vomiting, or fever, you should monitor his/her condition and encourage them to drink more water. This refers especially to young children and the elderly.

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3 Causes

Dehydration is caused when the quantity of water inside the body becomes insufficient for normal functioning.

It occurs for simple reasons:

  • Low intake - you don’t take enough water because you are sick, busy, or you don’t have access to safe drinking water.
  • Increased loss – diarrhea, vomiting, burns etc.

The most common reason for increased water loss is diarrhea, notably severe infectious diarrhea. It comes suddenly and causes excessive loss of water and electrolytes, especially when followed with vomiting.

The condition is even more severe in children and infants.

Other causes of diarrhea include:

  • bowel disorders,
  • food sensitivity,
  • medications etc.

The other common reason is fever. The higher you fever is, the more dehydrated you become. One of the possible reasons is hyperventilation.

Other reasons include:

  • excessive sweating (especially in humid weather),
  • increased urination (diabetes, hormonal changes, kidney diseases),
  • medications (antihypertensive drugs, diuretics) etc.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Depending on the severity of symptoms, you will most likely start by visiting your family doctor, pediatrician or urgent medical care unit to receive a diagnosis.

Do not forget to mention all the symptoms you are experiencing, all other chronic illnesses and medications you are taking. Also include your life and dietary habits.

You can try to replenish fluids and electrolytes with water oral rehydration solutions. Please bear in mind that children should be given both water and electrolytes at the same time in order to fix electrolyte imbalance.

There are several ways for a medical professional to detect dehydration:

  • Little or no urination ( dark-yellow urine)
  • Sunken eyes
  • Skin without elasticity
  • Fast heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blood tests – glucose, ketone bodies, levels of potassium and sodium etc.
  • Urine analysis – glucose, proteins etc.

5 Treatment

Treatment for dehydration is consisted of replacing lost fluids and electrolytes depending on the patients age, severity of the dehydration and its cause.

Be careful when treating children and do the following:

Use oral rehydration solutions – these contain water and electrolytes in specific proportions. Start using them as soon as possible, even before you visit the doctor. Use small amounts at frequent intervals (one spoon every few minutes) on room temperatures.

Continue with breast-feeding, even if your baby is sick, or use lactose-free formulas (lactose can worsen diarrhea).

Treating dehydration in adults:

In most cases the condition can be substantially improved with using water or other liquids.

Avoid coffee and fruit juices which could worsen your condition.

Severe cases of dehydration should be treated by emergency personnel. Water and salts should be given intravenously which provides more immediate results.

6 Prevention

In order to prevent dehydration, drink enough fluids and eat foods rich in water. Thirst should be your guide for hydration control, but you should also follow the look of your urine.

In some cases you should increase your regular fluid intake:

  • During exercise – preferably before starting the exercise. Take fluids during and after exercise too. Be careful not to take to much and cause bloating or hyponatremia
  • During Illnesses, specially ones followed with fever.
  • In humid environment
  • At high altitudes
  • In heated indoor spaces

7 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with dehydration.

Anyone is prone to becoming dehydrated, but some categories of population are more prone than the others.

These include:

  • Children and infants – small body weight and higher percentage of body-water content than in adults.
  • Elderly – smaller body weight, other chronic conditions, lower water intake, disabilities, dementia.
  • People with chronic illnesses –particularly diabetes, kidney diseases, cardiovascular diseases.
  • Athletes – body loses water during exercise, particularly in humid air and high altitudes.
  • Living and working at high altitudes.

Dehydration can lead to various complications:

  • Cerebral edema ( swelling of the brain)
  • Heat injury – ranging from mild cramps to heatstroke
  • Seizures – these can occur because of electrolyte imbalance. During dehydration levels of potassium and sodium tend to change which can lead to serious effect. These electrolytes are main responsible for passing electrical signals in the cells.
  • Hypovolemic shock – the fall of blood volume which is characterized by inadequate oxygen supply to the tissues, low blood pressure and tachycardia.

Severe cases of dehydration can be FATAL if not treated properly.

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