Dehydration

Dehydration occurs due to the excess loss of fluids from your body over the fluids you take. A reduction in the water content of your body causes an imbalance in the minerals affecting your overall body functioning. Based on the extent of the fluid loss, dehydration can range from mild to severe. If severe dehydration is not treated immediately, it can lead to shock.

Early dehydration symptoms include:

  • Excess thirst and dry mouth
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Tiredness
  • Amber colored urine with a strong smell
  • Reduced tears while crying
  • Feeling drowsy or sleepy

As the severity of dehydration increases, the following symptoms of dehydration will appear:

  • Sunken soft spot on the head and sunken eyes
  • Low blood pressure and increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Decreased urine output
  • Withering of skin

If you have severe symptoms, you need immediate medical help as it can lead to shock.

The main cause of dehydration is not taking adequate amounts of water to replace the lost fluids. The other causes include:

Excessive sweating: If you sweat excessively, you can get dehydrated as you lose more amount of fluids. This is more common during hot climatic conditions such as extreme summers.

Illnesses: Certain illness also can cause dehydration due to continuous vomiting and diarrhea.

Fever: In an attempt to reduce your body temperature which is high during fever, excess fluids are lost. If the fluids lost are not replenished with adequate fluid intake, it can lead to dehydration.

Excessive urination: Certain medical conditions cause chemical imbalances which increase urine output leading to dehydration.

Risk of dehydration is high in a certain population who include:

  • Athletes, especially body builders and swimmers who are regularly exposed to direct sun
  • Seniors, infants, and young children
  • People with chronic illnesses
  • People who stay in high altitudes
  • Workers exposed to extreme sun rays (e.g. welders, construction workers, landscapers, etc.)

When you report the symptoms of dehydration, your doctor checks the vital signs and if there is a low blood pressure, increased heart rate, fever and fast breathing, an initial clue of dehydration is obtained. Further to determine the underlying cause of dehydration, blood and urine tests are performed.

Urine analysis shows high specific gravity and ketone bodies, the degree of which indicates the severity of dehydration.

The amount of sodium and potassium in the blood and the indicators of kidney functioning such as BUN and creatinine also indicate the degree of dehydration.

If dehydration is not treated, it can lead to life-threatening complications such as:

  • Heatstroke
  • Seizures (due to excess electrolyte loss)
  • Heat cramps
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Kidney failure
  • Low blood volume
  • Coma

The strategies for treating dehydration are as given below:

Rehydration: The first focus of dehydration treatment is the fluid replacement. In this method, fluids are replaced either through drinking (mild cases) or through IV injections (severe cases). The solutions are often a mix of water and electrolytes.

Medications: Based on the cause of dehydration, you may be given medicines such as acetaminophen (to treat fever). It is advisable to avoid salt medications as they can lead to serious complications.

Follow these steps to reduce the severity of dehydration:

  • Keep sipping small amounts of water regularly. Do not drink soda, or coffee or sweet drinks.
  • Take drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes. You may prepare rehydration fluids by adding half teaspoon of salt, six spoons of sugar to one-liter water.
  • If heat exposure is the reason, the person should be cooled down by removing excess clothing and providing air conditioning. However, exposure to excess cold such as ice packs should be avoided.