Dehydration, symptoms and causes

Dehydration, symptoms and causes

Dehydration occurs when more water and fluids leave the body than enter it. Even low levels of dehydration can cause headaches, lethargy, and constipation.

The human body is roughly 75 percent water. Without this water, it cannot survive. Water is found inside cells, within blood vessels, and between cells.

A sophisticated water management system keeps our water levels balanced, and our thirst mechanism tells us when we need to increase fluid intake.

Although water is constantly lost throughout the day as we breathe, sweat, urinate, and defecate, we can replenish the water in our body by drinking fluids. The body can also move water around to areas where it is needed most if dehydration begins to occur.

Most occurrences of dehydration can be easily reversed by increasing fluid intake, but severe cases of dehydration require immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of Dehydration

Dehydration is easy to remedy but can be serious if left unchecked.
The first symptoms of dehydration include thirst, darker urine, and decreased urine production. In fact, urine color is one of the best indicators of a person’s hydration level – clear urine means you are well hydrated and darker urine means you are dehydrated.

However, it is important to note that, particularly in older adults, dehydration can occur without thirst. This is why it is important to drink more water when ill, or during hotter weather.

As the condition progresses to moderate dehydration, symptoms include:

  • dry mouth
  • lethargy
  • weakness in muscles
  • headache
  • dizziness

Severe dehydration (loss of 10-15 percent of the body’s water) may be characterized by extreme versions of the symptoms above as well as:

  • lack of sweating
  • sunken eyes
  • shriveled and dry skin
  • low blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • fever
  • delirium
  • unconsciousness
  • Symptoms in children
  • in babies – a sunken fontanel (soft spot on the top of the head)
  • dry tongue and mouth
  • irritable
  • no tears when crying
  • sunken cheeks and/or eyes
  • no wet diaper for 3 or more hours
  • Causes
  • The basic causes of dehydration are not taking in enough water, losing too much water, or a combination of both.

Causes of Dehydration

Diarrhea

The most common cause of dehydration and related deaths. The large intestine absorbs water from food matter, and diarrhea prevents this from happening. The body excretes too much water, leading to dehydration.

Vomiting

Leads to a loss of fluids and makes it difficult to replace water by drinking it.

Sweating

The body’s cooling mechanism releases a significant amount of water. Hot and humid weather and vigorous physical activity can further increase fluid loss from sweating. Similarly, a fever can cause an increase in sweating and may dehydrate the patient, especially if there is also diarrhea and vomiting.

Diabetes

High blood sugar levels cause increased urination and fluid loss. Tips for handling summer heat for people with diabetes.

Frequent urination

Usually caused by uncontrolled diabetes, but also can be due to alcohol and medications such as diuretics, antihistamines, blood pressure medications, and antipsychotics.

Burns

Blood vessels can become damaged, causing fluid to leak into the surrounding tissues.

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