Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don’t replace lost fluids, you will get dehydrated.

Anyone may become dehydrated, but the condition is especially dangerous for young children and older adults.

The most common cause of dehydration in young children is severe diarrhea and vomiting. Older adults naturally have a lower volume of water in their bodies and may have conditions or take medications that increase the risk of dehydration.

The signs and symptoms of dehydration also may differ by age.

Dehydration also can occur in any age group if you don’t drink enough water during hot weather — especially if you are exercising vigorously.

You can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids, but severe dehydration needs immediate medical treatment.

Symptoms

Thirst isn’t always a reliable early indicator of the body’s need for water. Many people, particularly older adults, don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. That’s why it’s important to increase water intake during hot weather or when you’re ill.

The signs and symptoms of dehydration also may differ by age.

Infant or young child:
Dry mouth and tongue
No tears when crying
No wet diapers for three hours
Sunken eyes, cheeks
Sunken soft spot on top of skull
Listlessness or irritability

Adult:
Extreme thirst
Less frequent urination
Dark-colored urine
Fatigue
Dizziness
Confusion

Causes

Sometimes dehydration occurs for simple reasons: You don’t drink enough because you’re sick or busy, or because you lack access to safe drinking water when you’re traveling, hiking, or camping. 

Excessive sweating. You lose water when you sweat. If you do vigorous activity and don’t replace fluids as you go along, you can become dehydrated. Hot, humid weather increases the amount you sweat and the amount of fluid you lose.

Risk factors

Anyone can become dehydrated, but certain people are at greater risk:

Infants and children. Young children often can’t tell you that they’re thirsty, nor can they get a drink for themselves.

Older adults. As you age, your body’s fluid reserve becomes smaller, your ability to conserve water is reduced and your thirst sense becomes less acute. Older adults also may have mobility problems that limit their ability to obtain water for themselves.

People with chronic illnesses. Having uncontrolled or untreated diabetes puts you at high risk of dehydration. Kidney disease also increases your risk, as do medications that increase urination. People who work or exercise outside. When it’s hot and humid, your risk of dehydration and heat illness increases.

Complications

Dehydration can lead to serious complications, including:

Heat injury. If you don’t drink enough fluids when you’re exercising vigorously and perspiring heavily, you may end up with a heat injury, ranging in severity from mild heat cramps to heat exhaustion or potentially life-threatening heatstroke.

Prevention

To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids and eat foods high in water such as fruits and vegetables. Letting thirst be your guide is an adequate daily guideline for most healthy people.

People may need to take in more fluids if they are experiencing conditions such as:

Vomiting or diarrhea, strenuous exercise, hot or cold weather, or Illness. Older adults most commonly become dehydrated during minor illnesses — such as influenza, bronchitis, or bladder infections. Make sure to drink extra fluids when you’re not feeling dehydrated.

Source: mayoclinic.org

Linda G. Hodge

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