Dehydration 101: The facts
Dehydration is a situation whereby the fluid content of the body is greatly reduced. At such a state, the fluid content is lower than what you take in. Most times, dehydration happens as a result of profuse sweating.
At a standard rate, an individual is supposed to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water daily. But if you are an athlete or sportsperson in general, or if you are exposed to very high temperature, your daily intake of water should be more than that, otherwise, you may end up dehydrated.
There is a great need to avoid putting the body in a state of dehydration. This is because dehydration causes human cells, tissues, organs, and systems to function properly. When this happens, serious complications may arise. When dehydration is allowed to continue over time without any effort to restore lost body fluids, the body may be thrown into shock. Dehydration is of two categories: severe and mild. If dehydration is mild, it can be managed at home. It means complications have not set in yet. When dehydration becomes severe, it has become an emergency and must be taken care of at a hospital.
What predisposes the body to dehydration?
Because drinking is not encouraged during sports events, athletes, bodybuilders, and swimmers tend to lose bodily fluids during those events. This is a clear case of self-induced dehydration. Some of these events expose the participants to the heat of the sun. Even in swimming, swimmers sweat a lot while in the water.
Aside, athletes, there are other categories of people that are at the risk of dehydration. Amongst them are:
- Chronically ill persons
- Infants and young children (they are always hyperactive.)
- Persons working where there is excessive heat (welders, laundrymen, mechanics, surveyors, construction workers, landscapers, etc.)
- Persons residing in higher altitudes
- Persons residing in tropical regions
- The elderly
- Other sportsmen and women like footballers, cyclists, etc.
How dehydration happens
On a normal day, the human body disposes of some amount of water as urine and sweat. Dehydration arises when the lost fluid is not restored. Any condition that makes the body to lose water unusually can lead to dehydration. Following are the major process of dehydration.
The body naturally has some cooling processes. Sweating is one of them. Normally, the sweat glands are activated to release some fluids from the body to cool it when there is heat. Evaporation is also activated here. The heat tormenting the body is carried away in small quantities as each drop of the sweat evaporates leaves the skin via evaporation. Thus, more sweat results in more evaporation and consequently, more cooling off.
Sweating does not only remove heat from the body, it moisturizes the skin and also helps in maintaining electrolyte balance in the body. The fluid released as sweat has water and salt as the major contents.
If a person sweats too much, dehydration can occur due to the loss of a large amount of water. Excessive sweating is technically known as hyperhidrosis.
Some illnesses induce diarrhea or continuous vomiting. Such illnesses are capable of causing dehydration. When you vomit or pass out watery stool frequently, you expel water from the body. The water expelled contains very essential electrolytes. (Electrolytes are minerals in the body which organ processes, blood chemistry as well as the muscles.) Electrolytes are contained in bodily fluids such as urine, blood, etc. when you vomit or have diarrhea, electrolytes are lost, some bodily functions impaired and complications may arise. Coma and stroke are the commonest of such complications.
When your body experiences fever, some fluid is lost as the body tries to cool the temperature. Fever can even make one sweat so much that dehydration can occur if the water is not taken in to restore the lost fluids.
Toxins are removed from the body through urine. Chemical imbalance, occasioned by certain conditions, can cause an increase in the frequency of urination. The more urine you release, the more bodily fluids you lose.
How do I know that I am dehydrated?
The symptoms of mild dehydration are:
- dry mouth
- dry skin
- increased thirst
- decreased urination
- less tear production
Symptoms associated with severe dehydration:
- dark urine
- excessive thirst
- shriveled skin
- lack of sweat production
- rapid heart rate
- rapid breathing
- low blood pressure
- sunken eyes
Symptoms associated with severe dehydration are a real medical emergency and should be treated by a medical professional immediately.
Is dehydration a medical emergency?
Severe dehydration is a serious medical issue and should receive immediate and expert care. Mild dehydration should also be managed as soon as observed.
If the following symptoms accompany the situation, medical care should be sought immediately:
- severe diarrhea for 3 days or more
- lack of coordination
- blood in the stool
- inability to keep fluids down
Before the test, the doctor will review your statement of other symptoms you have. Your vital signs, blood pressure, and heart rate will also be examined. If your blood pressure is low, and you have a rapid heart rate, then you may be dehydrated.
If need be, your blood might be tested to ascertain the level of lost electrolytes. From this, the doctor will get to know if your kidneys are working properly. A sample of your urine might be analyzed to ascertain the level of electrolyte loss or the presence of bacteria. Dehydration can also be diagnosed by testing your urine color.
Treating a dehydrated person
Rehydration means filling back with water. Lost water can be restored by drinking water or through IV. If you are vomiting, you might not be able to drink water, so you have to do IV. The IV should contain water and electrolytes. If you can drink water, add rehydration salts to the water.
Homemade Rehydration Solution
To make a rehydration solution at home, you need:
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 6 teaspoons or cubes of sugar
- 1 liter of water
Nothing should be in excess for effectiveness.
Do not drink soda, sweet things or caffeine as a way of treating dehydration. You will just worsen the case.
Possible complications of untreated dehydration
If dehydration is not treated, life-threatening complications may arise. These may include:
- Low blood volume
- heat exhaustion
- kidney failure
- heat cramps
- seizures due to electrolyte loss
Increase your water intake if you are sick. If you are vomiting or have diarrhea, use a rehydration therapy or consult a doctor.
When you want to exercise or take part in sports events, drink enough water before you start. Also, take water at intervals and after the workout.
Avoid excessive exposure to direct sun rays of heat sources as much as possible. Whether you are into sports or not, drink enough water.
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.