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Dehydration

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Definition

Dehydration results from excessive loss of fluids from the body.

Causes

To work properly, the body requires a certain amount of water and other elements, called electrolytes. Drinking and eating help to replace fluids that have been lost through the body's functions. Fluids are normally lost through sweat, urine, bowel movements, and breathing. If you lose a lot of fluids and do not replace them, you can become dehydrated.

Risk Factors

Dehydration is more common in children younger than two years and people aged 65 years or older, especially those with chronic illness.

Factors that may increase the risk of dehydration include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • High fever
  • Exposure to the heat and sun
  • Excessive exercise, including athletic competitions
  • Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • Medications, including diuretics and laxatives
  • Reduced fluid intake due to certain conditions, such as movement problems, mental or memory problems, decreased ability to perceive thirst
  • Fluid imbalance caused by certain conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, burns, and infection

Symptoms

Symptoms vary depending on the degree of dehydration. Symptoms may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Limited tear production
  • Thirst
  • Weakness
  • Decreased urination
  • Concentrated urine—darker color, stronger odor
  • Wrinkled skin or dry skin
  • Parched, cracked lips
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fast breathing
  • Weight loss
  • In infants, sunken soft spot in the skull

Soft Spot in Infant Skull
Infant Soft Spot
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Dehydration can be extremely serious and life threatening. It may require immediate medical care.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests

Treatment

Therapy aims to rehydrate the body, replace lost electrolytes, and prevent complications. If you have an underlying condition, your doctor will treat that, as well.

Treatment may include:

Fluid Replacement

If you have minimal or moderate dehydration, you doctor may have you replace fluids by mouth. You may need to:

  • Drink small amounts of oral rehydration solution throughout the day. Continue to drink the oral rehydration solution.
  • Adults may need plain water or salty liquids like broth. Avoid beverages with alcohol and caffeine, carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, and gelatin.
  • Increase the amount of liquid as you can tolerate it.

If you are severely dehydrated, IV fluids will be given to rapidly replace fluids.

Medication

Your doctor may recommend that you take medication, such as:

  • Antiemetics for severe vomiting
  • Antidiarrheal medication for severe diarrhea or abdominal cramping
  • Antibiotics for severe diarrhea caused by a certain bacterial infection

If you are diagnosed with dehydration, follow your doctor's instructions.

Prevention

To prevent dehydration:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, even if you are busy or sick.
  • Drink fluids regularly while exercising or when outdoors on a hot day. Stop frequently for fluid breaks.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Peter Lucas, MD
  • Review Date: 12/2013 -
  • Update Date: 12/12/2013 -
  • American Academy of Family Physicians

    http://familydoctor.org

  • American Academy of Pediatrics

    http://www.healthychildren.org

  • About Kids Health

    http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Dehydration and heat stroke. Wexner Medical Center website. Available at: http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare%5Fservices/emergency%5Fservices/non%5Ftraumatic%5Femergencies/dehydration%5Fheat%5Fstroke/Pages/index.aspx. Accessed December 12, 2013.

  • Dehydration and hypovolemia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 4, 2013. Accessed December 12, 2013.

  • Dehydration and hypovolemia in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 4, 2013. Accessed December 12, 2013.

  • Rehydration therapy in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed . Updated May 13, 2013. Accessed December 12, 2013.