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Posted May 10 2009 12:00am

Dehydration means your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should, dehydration can be caused by losing too much fluid, not drinking enough water or fluids, or both. Water is the most important essential nutrient in the human body. Even in view of this incredible importance, we are not vigilant enough about maintaining its purity and accessibility. Our muscle and brain tissue is roughly 70% water. Most of the water is found within the cells of the body (intracellular space). The rest is found in the so-called extracellular space, which consists of the blood vessels (intravascular space) and the spaces between cells (interstitial space).

Dehydration is loss of water and important blood salts like potassium (K+) and sodium (Na+). Vital organs like the kidneys, brain, and heart can’t function without a certain minimum of water and salt. Dehydration occurs when the amount of water leaving the body is greater than the amount being taken in. The body is very dynamic and always changing. This is especially true with water in the body.

Under normal conditions, we all lose some body water every day in our sweat, tears, urine, and stool. Water also evaporates from our skin and leaves the body as vapor when we breathe. We usually replace this body fluid and the salts it contains with the water and salts in our regular diet. In a normal day, a person has to drink a significant amount of water to replace this routine loss.

If intravascular (within the blood vessels) water is lost, the body can compensate somewhat by shifting water from cells into the blood vessels, but this is a very short-term solution. Signs and symptoms of dehydration will occur quickly if the water is not replenished.

The Causes of Dehydration

There are many things that can cause dehydration, the most common are vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss, malnutrition, and plain old failure to replenish liquids lost from sweating and urination (Not drinking enough water). Many illnesses and diseases can trigger acute dehydration due to the increased body temperature and sweating that usually occur. This is why your doctor tells you to drink plenty of fluids when you are ill. Your body uses fluids to expell toxins as well as to keep your system flexible, lubricated and running smoothly.

  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea is the most common reason a person loses excess water. A significant amount of water can be lost with each bowel movement. Worldwide, more than four million children die each year because of dehydration from diarrhea.
  • Vomiting: Vomiting can also be a cause of fluid loss; as well, it makes it difficult to replace water by drinking it.
  • Sweat: The body can lose significant amounts of water when it tries to cool itself by sweating. Whether the body is hot because of the environment (for example, working in a warm environment), intense exercising in a hot environment, or because a fever is present due to an infection, the body uses a significant amount of water in the form of sweat to cool itself. Depending upon weather conditions, a brisk walk will generate up to 16 ounces of sweat (a pound of water).
  • Diabetes: In people with diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels cause sugar to spill into the urine and water then follows. Significant dehydration can occur. For this reason, frequent urination and excessive thirst are among the symptoms of diabetes.
  • Burns: Burn victims become dehydrated because water seeps into the damaged skin. Other inflammatory diseases of the skin are also associated with fluid loss.
  • Inability to drink fluids: The inability to drink adequately is the other potential cause of dehydration. Whether it is the lack of availability of water or the lack of strength to drink adequate amounts, this, coupled with routine or extraordinary water losses, can compound the degree of dehydration.

The Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
Dehydration is classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on how much of the body’s fluid is lost or not replenished. When severe, dehydration is a life-threatening emergency. It is usually possible to avoid serious complications of dehydration by recognizing the early signs and symptoms of dehydration and getting quick medical attention.

Symptoms of dehydration usually begin with thirst and progress to more alarming manifestations as the need for water becomes more dire. The initial signs and symptoms of mild dehydration in adults appear when the body has lost about 2% of it’s total fluid. These mild dehydration symptoms are often (but not limited to):

Symptoms of Minimal Dehydration
Patient who are sick, either with a cold or mild stomach bug, will have minimal or no dehydration. These patient are alert and appear well and have:

  • normal thirst or may refuse some liquids
  • a moist mouth and tongue
  • normal to slightly decreased urine output
  • less than 3 percent weight loss
  • loss of Appetite
  • dry Skin
  • Skin Flushing
  • dark Colored Urine
  • fatique or Weakness
  • chills
  • head Rushes
  • normal heart rate, pulses, breathing, and warm extremities
  • capillary refill less than 2 seconds
  • instant recoil on skin turgor test
  • eyes not sunken (and/or fontanel in a baby)

Symptoms of Mild to Moderate Dehydration
Once their dehydration worsens, they may begin to feel tired, restless, and irritable, which makes it difficult to get them to drink more fluids. Other signs and symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration, for which you should usually call your doctors include:

  • increased thirst
  • a dry mouth and tongue
  • decreased urine output
  • 3 to 9 percent weight loss
  • normal to increased heart rate and pulses, normal to fast breathing, and cool extremities
  • capillary refill greater than 2 seconds
  • recoil on skin turgor test in less than 2 seconds
  • slightly sunken eyes

Symptoms of Severe Dehydration
Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and you should seek immediate medical attention. These children appear lethargic (meaning they are difficult to keep awake) or may be unconscious. They also may have:

  • a parched mouth and tongue
  • poor drinking or may be unable to drink
  • minimal or no urine output
  • greater than 9 percent weight loss
  • increased heart rate, weak pulses, deep breathing, and cool, mottled extremities
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vomiting
  • Racing pulse
  • Shriveled skin
  • Dim vision
  • Painful urination
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest and Abdominal pain
  • Unconciousness

Effects includes:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiration
  • Decreased sweating
  • Decreased urination
  • Increased body temperature
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Tingling of the limbs

Drinking fluids is usually sufficient for mild dehydration. It is better to have frequent, small amounts of fluid (using a teaspoon or syringe for an infant or child) rather than trying to force large amounts of fluid at one time. Drinking too much fluid at once can bring on more vomiting.

Electrolyte solutions or freezer pops are especially effective. These are available at pharmacies. Sport drinks contain a lot of sugar and can cause or worsen diarrhea.

Intravenous fluids and hospitalization may be necessary for moderate to severe dehydration. The doctor will try to identify and then treat the cause of the dehydration.

Most cases of stomach viruses (also called viral gastroenteritis) tend to resolve on their own after a few days


Symptoms of dehydration will differ from person to person because the body is a complex network of systems and everyone’s body is different. When these systems are disturbed due to loss of fluids there will be several common symptoms shared by most bodies, but there may also be unusual or unexpected responses depending on the particular person in question. Age also plays a part in the manifestation of symptoms. Signs of dehydration in a child will not be the same as those experienced by a teenager, adult or in the elderly. Dehydration prevention is the best treatment for every age group. heatstroke is always around the corner.

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