The average human body contains 75% water. As such, it won’t be able to survive without it. Our water levels are balanced by a complex water management system with a thirst mechanism that alerts us when more fluid intake is necessary.
Although we continuously lose water through breathing, sweating, urinating, and defecating throughout the day, we can replenish the water in our bodies by consuming fluids. If dehydration sets in, the body can also move water to the places where it is most required. Most cases of dehydration can be easily treated by consuming more liquids, but severe cases necessitate urgent medical attention.
What is dehydration?
Dehydration refers to your body not holding sufficient water, especially in your cells and blood vessels. If you expend or lose more fluid than you consume, you will likely be dehydrated because your body lacks the water and other fluids it needs to operate normally. In essence, dehydration will occur if wasted fluids are not replaced.
Even a tiny amount of water loss, as little as 1.5%, can result in symptoms. These symptoms can range from a mild headache to a potentially fatal condition called heatstroke (hyperthermia). Thirst is your body’s normal reaction to dehydration. When you feel thirsty, you should immediately drink fluids, ideally water.
Symptoms of dehydration
Thirst, dark urine, and reduced urine output are some of the first signs of dehydration. Urine colour is one of the most significant indicators of hydration status; clear urine indicates adequate hydration, while darker urine indicates dehydration.
It’s essential to remember that dehydration can develop without thirst, especially in older adults. This is why it’s crucial to increase your water intake when you’re sick or when the temperature is hotter.
Symptoms of moderate dehydration as the situation worsens include:
- Feelings of lethargy
- Muscle weakness
- Dry mouth
Symptoms of more severe cases of dehydration (loss of 10-15% of water in the body) include:
- Inability to perspire
- Dried/shrivelled skin
- Sunken eyes
- Heart palpitations
- Lowered blood pressure
- Passing out
Symptoms of dehydration in children include:
- Soft spot on the top of the head (for babies)
- Dry mouth and tongue
- Inability to shed tears when crying
- Sunken eyes or cheeks
- Diaper doesn’t get wet after three or four hours
Common causes of dehydration
Dehydration occurs when you don’t consume enough water or lose a lot of water quickly – For instance, when you sweat, throw up, or have diarrhoea. Sometimes it’s difficult to drink enough water because we’re too occupied, don’t have the resources or energy to do so, or are in an area without safe drinking water (camping or hiking, for example). Dehydration and increased urination are also possible side effects of some medicines, including diuretics (water pills).
Who’s most at risk?
If they don’t take better care of themselves and consume water, anyone can become dehydrated. Infants and young children, particularly those who are ill, are at a greater risk because they might be unable to express their thirst. It’s this important for parents to monitor their children’s water intake.
Additionally, older people are more vulnerable. Their body’s ability to inform them they are thirsty is less effective, and their body’s fluid reserves decrease. As a result, they have less water in their systems and have a harder time recognising when they are thirsty. Offer them drinks frequently if you are a caregiver for an elderly person, particularly someone with memory issues. They still need to drink fluids, even when dealing with an uncomfortable illness like a UTI.
How to prevent dehydration
Your required water intake would depend on your age, weight, level of exercise, age, the climate where you live, and other variables. Individuals with heart disease, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and other conditions should also exercise caution. Even the temperature and the clothing you wear can affect how much water you need. The standard recommendation is eight glasses of water daily (approximately 2.2 litres or 2.3 quarts daily for an adult female and 3 litres or 3.2 quarts daily for an adult male). Consult with a medical practitioner for further information.
If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of dehydration (diarrhoea, irritability, inability to hold down fluids) for more than a week or so, you should see a doctor as quickly as possible. Remember that the most crucial treatment for dehydration is prevention. Most people should be able to avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of liquids and eating foods with high water content, like fruits and veggies.
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