Dehydration: Causes, Treatment, Prevention and How Much Water You Should Drink
It may surprise you to know that about 60 percent of your body weight is water. All cells contain water and all the organs and tissues in your body need water to function properly. That’s why drinking water should be part of your daily routine not only for a healthy life, but also to prevent dehydration, a dangerous condition.
What is dehydration?
Dehydration, also known as fluid loss, occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in. This causes an imbalance of salt and sugar in the body, which affects its ability to function properly and perform the way it should.
What causes dehydration?
Dehydration can be caused by many reasons, including:
- not drinking enough water
- vomiting or diarrhea
- excessive heat
- medications that increase urination (diuretics)
- vigorous exercise
- drinking alcohol
- certain medical conditions such as diabetes, pregnancy, irritable bowel syndrome and others
Who is at risk for dehydration?
Anyone can become dehydrated. Some individuals, however, are at increased risk of dehydration, including infants and children, older adults and those who work or exercise outdoors in hot and humid conditions.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration
If you experience thirst, you are already dehydrated. It’s important to remember to drink water throughout the day to maintain the level your body needs.
The signs and symptoms of dehydration range from mild to life-threatening. Signs and symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include:
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- decreased urination
- dry mouth
- weakness or muscle cramps
- reduced tear production
Severe dehydration is a life-threatening condition. Anyone experiencing the following signs of severe dehydration should seek immediate medical attention:
- excessive thirst
- rapid breathing
- rapid heart rate or weak pulse
- low blood pressure
- sunken eyes
- lack of sweat production
In children, additional signs of severe dehydration include:
- dry mouth and tongue
- no tear production
- dry diaper for more than three hours
- bluish coloring to skin
The effects of dehydration on the body
When the body becomes dehydrated, the effects are wide ranging. Without treatment, it can cause kidney failure, shock, coma, or death. It is also associated with heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion. You can learn more about that here.
Treating dehydration and how to rehydrate
For individuals who are experiencing symptoms of severe dehydration, immediate medical attention is critical. Mild to moderate cases of dehydration can be treated at home. For those individuals, the following is recommended:
- drink plenty of water
- seek a cool place away from heat and humidity
- lie down with a cool, wet towel on your forehead
- use oral rehydrating salts
When to seek medical attention for dehydration
Anyone experiencing signs of severe dehydration should seek immediate medical attention. If vomiting, diarrhea, or symptoms of dehydration continue after drinking water and electrolytes, contact your doctor for advice.
The best way to prevent hydration is to remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day. In addition:
- Be sure to increase your fluid intake on hot or humid days, or before or after exercise.
- Carry a water bottle with you so you always have something to drink.
- If you work outside, be sure to take frequent breaks in a cool or shady place.
- It’s wise to avoid carbonated or sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol as all of these can dehydrate you, especially when it’s hot outside.
How much water should you drink each day?
We take in a certain amount of water through the foods we eat. But we also lose water through breathing, sweating, and going to the bathroom. So, it’s important to continually hydrate yourself. This is especially true in hot and humid weather when you will need more to stay hydrated.
There is a wide variety of advice when it comes to how much water we need to stay healthy and keep our bodies functioning properly. One widely accepted rule is to drink 64-ounces daily.
Another common recommendation is to drink half your body weight in ounces. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of water; 180 pounds would be 90 ounces, and so on. The important thing is never wait until you’re thirsty to start drinking. Make it part of your daily routine.
Adding fruits and vegetables to your daily menu is also key to helping you stay hydrated. Fruits and vegetables contain lots of water, so feel free to munch on that slice of watermelon or whip up a smoothie for a quick and tasty way to replenish lost fluids.
Water is the best, most natural way to keep yourself hydrated. But sometimes you just need to mix it up. Besides water, there are some drinks that can also keep you hydrated or help you to rehydrate when needed. Those include low sugar drinks with electrolytes and fruit infused waters. Be sure to look for those with no added sugar.
About the Author:
Lifespan Blog Team
The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.
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