Quench Your Thirst : Causes and Prevention of Dehydration


  • Dehydration occurs when a loss of fluid in the body is not adequately replaced.
  • It’s important to be aware of the warning signs of dehydration such as dry lips, increased thirst, and fatigue.
  • Dehydration is preventable and easily managed by drinking water on a daily basis.

Chances are you’ve been hearing numerous messages in the media about the importance of preventing dehydration. Summer is here! So, it’s time to devote extra attention to hydrating your body. Dehydration can happen quickly! However, it’s easily preventable and treatable. It’s imperative to know the signs of dehydration. We must also understand the many benefits of drinking water.

What are the Causes of Dehydration?

Water is a key ingredient for maintaining good health throughout the lifespan. Healthy adults may lose more than 2,500 ml of body water every day. This can be a serious health risk. Dehydration occurs when we lose too much fluid from the body and it doesn’t get replaced. Human body water accounts for 50-70% of body mass. However, the fluid level where we need to keep it in is within a narrow range. There are a number of different causes of dehydration that can happen in everyday life. Sometimes we get preoccupied and forget to drink enough. We might also be exercising without adequate hydration. 

We may become dehydrated when we’re sick. This is especially possible if we have fever, diarrhea or vomiting. Fever causes excess sweating. Therefore, it can lead to dehydration. Diarrhea can occur suddenly and quickly. It causes a loss of fluid and electrolytes. Vomiting with diarrhea can lead to even more fluid and mineral loss. This is particularly common in infants and young children. All these may lead to losing a lot of water and electrolytes in the body.

Electrolytes are minerals that dissolve in body fluids. They also create electrically charged ions. The most important electrolytes for our bodies are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphate. Sodium is important because it maintains the amount of fluids in our body. Potassium helps our muscles and nerves function. It also helps keep our hearts healthy. Magnesium aids in regulating our blood sugar and blood pressure. Like potassium, it also helps in muscle contraction and relaxation. It also keeps our nervous system in top shape. Finally, phosphate regulates our body’s metabolism. It also has a role in forming our skeletal system.

Older adults also have a lower volume of water in their bodies. Some may also be taking medications that can increase the likelihood of dehydration. This is very concerning. This is because dehydration is a common cause of illness and death in older adults. People with chronic illnesses are more prone to dehydration. These illnesses include kidney disease and diabetes. Studies also suggest that children and elderly adults may have more cognitive difficulties. This happens when they are without sufficient hydration.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration?

It’s not always easy to recognize when you’re dehydrated. This is because you may not necessarily feel thirsty. That’s why it’s essential to remain hydrated at all times. The risk of dehydration is even greater when the weather is hot. Engaging in vigorous exercise can lead to excessive sweating. This happens particularly when outdoors in the heat and humidity. Children and adults may exhibit different signs and symptoms. Therefore, it’s imperative to be aware of these distinctions. Let’s take a closer look at some of the warning signs.

Infants and Young Children – Mild dehydration usually causes dry mouth and lips, increased thirst. You may also observe less urination. When children are moderately dehydrated, they tend to be less playful. This is in addition to the other symptoms. In cases of severe hydration, children may become sleepy and listless. Therefore, emergency care is needed right away.

Adults – Among the most common symptoms of dehydration are dry mouth and tongue, thirst. You may also experience headaches, lethargy, and dizziness. You might even have a loss of focus. Dark-colored urine may also be another sign of dehydration. If your body loses even one liter of water, this detracts from your bodily functions. You may experience weakness, thirst, and flushing. Your mouth will turn dry and your urine may darken. With a loss of five liters, you may develop fatigue and dizziness. You may also feel hotter because you have decreased sweating. A loss of more than 15 liters is extremely dangerous. It can lead to muscle spasms and confusion. Extreme cases may even lead to death.

How Can Dehydration be Prevented?

The amount of water your body needs varies somewhat with each individual. You may not need to drink eight glasses of water a day. This is contrary to what has been a widespread recommendation. The water you need depends on your level of exercise and overall health. It also depends on environmental factors, such as your climate. It may also vastly differ if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you’re planning to engage in strenuous exercise, it’s essential to begin hydrating the day before. These activities include running, cycling, playing sports, or working out at the gym. Athletes are at higher risk for dehydration. Therefore, they should always replace water loss during and between exercise routines. There has also been a study that shows that women may be more prone to dehydration than men.

What are the Best Options for Staying Hydrated?

We should incorporate hydration into our agenda. This especially applies when we’re planning our daily activities. Our health status depends upon what we consume. It is also related to our age and level of physical activity. So, how can we maintain adequate hydration? 

Water is an ideal choice because it’s most readily available. However, there are other ways to get enough fluids. Keeping a variety of foods and beverages at home makes this goal much easier. Milk, juice, and herbal teas are also effective for preventing dehydration. Beverages like these contain a lot of water. Milk has ample amounts of sodium, carbohydrate, and protein content. It is another viable source for rapid rehydration. Herbal teas are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. There are many different types to suit your taste buds!


Similar to the benefits of fruit juice, you can also squeeze a slice of lemon or lime into your water for added flavor and nutrients. Both lemons and limes contain high levels of vitamin C, which help support the immune system. Citric acid may also aid in the prevention of kidney stones. There are many fruits and vegetables that are almost 100% water, such as watermelon and spinach. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages may cause more frequent urination, but they don’t appear to contribute directly to dehydration. 

How Can You Quickly Manage Dehydration?

If you have mild or signs and symptoms of dehydration, try to remedy this situation as quickly as possible at home. The most effective way to treat dehydration is to replace the lost fluids and electrolytes. Sweat is mainly sodium. Therefore, this is one of the most important electrolytes to replace, especially when exercising. Grab some cool water or a sports drink with electrolytes, You may also opt to drink a carbohydrate solution. Water is generally considered to be the best way to rehydrate. However, it may be more effective when consumed with foods that contain electrolytes. 

Research shows that adequate rehydration is only achieved when the volume of fluid consumed is greater than the volume lost. Additionally, the sodium concentration of these fluids must be higher than that of sweat. Serum sodium concentration is the amount of sodium (salt) relative to the volume of water in the blood. However, this does not indicate the total body sodium content. A condition known as hyponatremia occurs when the concentration of sodium in your blood falls below 135 mEq/L. When this happens, your body finds it hard to regulate your body fluids. Your cells may also swell. This could lead to life-threatening cases. In most instances, rehydration can be successfully achieved on our own. In cases of moderate dehydration, intravenous fluids (IV fluids) may be given through a vein. This will be able to replace water, sugar, and salt. However, this requires medical attention to administer. Therefore, consult with your doctor as quickly as possible. 

In the event of severe dehydration, seek immediate emergency care. This is because it can lead to serious health complications. Among these are heat cramps, heat stroke, and seizures. It can also lead to urinary and kidney issues. In worse cases, there may be low blood volume shock. This occurs when there is a sudden loss of a lot of blood or fluids from your body. It is a life-threatening emergency. Therefore, it must be treated as quickly as possible.

The prevention of dehydration should be the top priority on our “to-do list.” There are a few key guidelines for staying hydrated. Always remember to drink plenty of fluids. We must also be aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration. Pay close attention to children and the elderly. They are especially at risk for not drinking enough water.  When you’re on-the-go, carrying a water bottle is an essential accessory. Don’t leave home without it! Set reminders on post-it notes or your phone, so you will remember to drink several times throughout the day. You can monitor the amount by assessing your level of thirst. The color of your urine should also be colorless or light yellow. Making hydration a daily habit will reap rewards! This benefits your health and longevity.

Summary

Activities and events are starting to pop up as we reach the end of the pandemic in our country. This means we will be spending more time outdoors this summer. Don’t sweat it! This is a welcome opportunity to enjoy the summer months. Make sure that you are not neglecting your body’s need for hydration. It is important to know the causes, symptoms, and ways to prevent dehydration. In this way, we can take simple steps to achieve better health. Water is an essential element for all our body functions. It also helps keep our electrolytes in balance. Stay happy, healthy and hydrated!

Scientific Information

  • Electrolytes – minerals that dissolve in body fluids and create electrically charged ions. The most important electrolytes for our bodies are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphate.

  • Sodium concentrationthe amount of sodium (salt) relative to the volume of water in the blood, but does not indicate the total body sodium content. When the concentration of sodium in your blood is low and falls below 135 mEq/L this is known as hyponatremia.

  • Intravenous fluids (IV fluids) – fluids that are given through a thin tube inserted into one of your veins to replace water, sugar, and salt that is lost through dehydration.

  • Low blood volume shock – a life-threatening condition that occurs when you suddenly lose a lot of blood or fluids in your body.

Written by:

Alice Schluger, PhD

Health Psychology

Reviewed by:
Registered Dietitian
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PubMed Central

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