Dehydration occurs because there is too much water lost, not enough water taken in, or most often a combination of the two.
â€¢ Diarrhea: Diarrhea is the most common reason for a person to loose excess amounts of 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.
â€¢ Vomiting: Vomiting can also be a cause of fluid loss and it is difficult for a person to replace water by drinking it if they are unable to tolerate liquids.
â€¢ 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 may generate up to 16 ounces of sweat (a pound) to allow body cooling, and that water needs to be replaced.
â€¢ Diabetes: In people with diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels cause sugar to spill into the urine and water then follows, which may cause significant dehydration. For this reason, frequent urination and excessive thirst are among the early symptoms of diabetes.
â€¢ Burns: Burn victims become dehydrated because the damaged skin cannot prevent fluid from seeping out of the body. Other inflammatory diseases of the skin are also associated with fluid loss.
â€¢ 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
Water is a critical element of the body, and adequate hydration is a must to allow the body to function. Up to 75% of the bodyâ€™s weight is made up of water. Most of the water is found within the cells of the body (intracellular space). The rest is found in what is referred to as the extracellular space, which consists of the blood vessels (intravascular space) and the spaces between cells (interstitial space).
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. We lose water routinely when we: breathe and humidified air leaves the body; sweat to cool the body; and urinate or have a bowel movement to rid the body of waste products.
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 within the cells into the blood vessels, but this is a very short-term solution. The body lives within a very narrow range of normal parameters, and signs and symptoms of dehydration will occur quickly if the water is not replenished.
The body is able to monitor the amount of fluid it needs to function. The thirst mechanism signals the body to drink water when the body is dry. As well, hormones like anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) work with the kidney to limit the amount of water lost in the urine when the body needs to conserve water.
Dehydration generally signifies the excess loss or deficiency of water in the body. It refers to deficiency of water in relation to other dissolved solutes. Along with water, several vital minerals called electrolytes are also lost when one is dehydrated. Water accounts for almost 2/3rd of the total body weight and is present both within the cells as well as in the intracellular spaces. Dehydration is a condition when the level of water in the body gets reduced below the level required for carrying out vital activities within the body. It occurs due to loss of water in greater amount than its intake. A considerable amount of water is lost from our bodies daily, due to activities like breathing, sweating and urination. So, we need to drink plenty of water in order to compensate for this loss and thereby prevent dehydration.
Dehydration is easily recognized by symptoms like thirst and reduction in the volume of urine or discharge of dark yellow colored urine. It also produces some other symptoms, such as dry mouth, headache, dizziness, sunken eyes, lethargy, increased heart rate and irritability. In addition to these, in infants, a sunken fontanel (soft spot on the head) can be an important indicator of dehydration. In severe cases, due to poor supply of blood to the brain and other parts of the body, confusion and weakness may occur. If remained untreated, it can lead to coma and organ failure.
There are a wide range of factors including many diseases, that can cause dehydration. Diarrhea is one of the most important causes leading to dehydration. In diarrhea, dehydration results from frequent discharge of loose or liquid feces. Dehydration resulting from diarrhea is the second most common cause of infant deaths throughout the world.
Sweating is a mechanism of cooling down the body and thereby maintaining body temperature. But it also involves significant loss of water from the body and hence can be a cause of dehydration. Vomiting, the expulsion of the contents of the stomach through the mouth can lead to excess loss of water. Besides, victims of severe burns may also experience dehydration due to loss of fluids. .
In addition to all these, diseases like cholera, gastroenteritis, shigellosis and yellow fever can also cause dehydration. Large amounts of water are drained out of the body while exercising, playing sports and performing any other kind of strenuous activity, therefore the water or fluid balance of the body has to be maintained, to prevent dehydration.
Treatment and Prevention
Dehydration can be easily prevented as well as treated by replenishing the loss of fluid with adequate intake of water. The greater the amount of water lost from the body, the greater should the intake be. Besides water, one can also take rehydration fluids or solutions, especially in case of dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting. This will not only compensate the loss of water, but also the loss of important nutrients. Though dehydration can be easily treated with oral rehydration, sometimes intravenous administration of fluid may also be required, depending on the severity of the condition.
Dehydration, if neglected can lead to serious conditions, especially among infants and young children suffering from diarrhea. One needs to be more careful about babies and children as they tend to get easily dehydrated. An important indicator of dehydration is the frequency of urination and the nature of urine discharged. If the urine is dark yellow in color, along with a reduced frequency and volume of urine, then it can be an indicator of deficiency of water in the body. Whenever these signs are detected, body fluid should be immediately replenished by drinking water and other fluids containing important electrolytes like potassium and sodium.
Even when healthy, drink plenty of fluid every day. Drink more when the weather is hot or you are exercising.
Carefully monitor someone who is ill, especially an infant, child, or older adult. If you believe that dehydration is developing, consult a doctor before the person becomes moderately or severely dehydrated. Begin fluid replacement as soon as vomiting and diarrhea start — DO NOT wait for signs of dehydration.
Always encourage the person to drink during an illness, and remember that a personâ€™s fluid needs are greater when that person has fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. The easiest signs to monitor are urine output (there should be frequent wet diapers or trips to the bathroom), saliva in the mouth, and tears when crying.
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. In infants and children, avoid using water as the primary replacement fluid.
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.
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. Vomiting and diarrhea are common causes.
Infants and children are more susceptible to dehydration than adults because of their smaller body weights and higher turnover of water and electrolytes. The elderly and those with illnesses are also at higher risk.
Dehydration is classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on how much of the bodyâ€™s fluid is lost or not replenished. When severe, dehydration is a life-threatening emergency.