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Dehydration

Definition

Dehydration results from excessive loss or not enough replacement 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 and electrolytes that have been lost through the body's functions. Fluids are normally lost through sweat, urine, bowel movements, and breathing. If a lot of fluids are lost and not replaced, dehydration can occur.

Risk Factors

Dehydration is more common in children younger than 2 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 health or memory problems, and 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

The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

The doctor will test bodily fluids. This can be done with:

  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests

Treatment

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

Treatment may include:

Fluid Replacement

If there is minimal or moderate dehydration, the doctor may have fluids replaced fluids by mouth. The following may be needed:

  • Drink small amounts of oral rehydration solution throughout the day. Continue to drink the oral rehydration solution.
  • Adults may need additional plain water or salty liquids like broth, depending on their sodium level. Avoid beverages with alcohol and caffeine, carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, and gelatin.
  • Increase the amount of liquid as tolerated.

IV fluids will be given to rapidly replace fluids in cases of severe dehydration.

Medication

The doctor may recommend the following medication:

  • Anti-nausea and vomiting medications
  • Antidiarrheal medication for severe diarrhea or abdominal cramping
  • Antibiotics for severe diarrhea caused by a certain bacterial infections

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

  • Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

    http://familydoctor.org

  • Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics

    http://www.healthychildren.org

  • About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children

    http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca

  • Health Canada

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

  • Dehydration and hypovolemia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T904582/Dehydration-and-hypovolemia-in-adults. Updated October 5, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2016.

  • Dehydration and hypovolemia in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T904583/Dehydration-and-hypovolemia-in-infants-and-children. Updated May 9, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.

  • Rehydration therapy in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900144/Rehydration-therapy-in-children. Updated May 9, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.