Roughly 60% of the human body is made of water, so when there’s not enough water in the body, problems occur.
Dehydration follows when a person’s body doesn’t have enough fluids to work properly. There are different levels of dehydration, ranging from mild to severe.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration
Early symptoms of dehydration typically vary by age.
“Among the first symptoms to show up are a dry mouth, less urination, dark-colored urine, fatigue, dizziness, dry skin, headache, muscle cramps or feeling thirsty,” said Lexie Schwartz, RN and EMS and trauma coordinator with Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire. “In babies and children, dehydration can occur quicker due to the smaller body size. Watch for sunken eyes, irritability, and unusual fatigue, crying with no tears, a dry mouth or tongue and less wet diapers than usual.”
More severe symptoms include confusion, fainting, no urine production, rapid heartbeat and breathing, a high temperature, seizures, hot, dry skin, hallucinations and signs of shock.
Dehydration isn’t always from not drinking enough water
But, it is one of the main factors.
“Other causes of dehydration are excessive sweating, like from being in a sauna or out in hot weather, diarrhea and vomiting, fever or medications that cause extra urinating,” said Schwartz.
Caffeine and alcohol also can be factors in dehydration because they act as mild diuretics, meaning they cause increased urine production.
What to do if you’re dehydrated
“If early, non-severe symptoms of dehydration are noticed, treatment is as simple as drinking fluids,” Schwartz said. “In more severe cases, IV fluids in a hospital may be needed and medical attention should be sought.”
Water is the most helpful drink to counter dehydration. In some situations, sports drinks also may be used, as they contain electrolytes and vitamins in addition to fluids to help replenish what was lost. Oral rehydration solutions may help replace fluids and electrolytes for children, without the added sugar that is found in some sports drinks.
“Someone who is dehydrated should avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine, as well as situations that will cause excess sweating, like going in a sauna, intense exercise and being in extremely hot weather,” she said. “It’s best to stay in a comfortable temperature environment, rest and drink fluids if mild dehydration occurs.”
One tip: Get enough fluids into your body daily
“Carry a water bottle with you during the day and keep it filled. Adding flavor to the water can make it more fun to drink,” Schwartz said. “Getting enough fluids doesn’t always mean only drinking water. Adding foods high in water content to your diet, such as fruits and vegetables, help provide hydration.”
A good rule of thumb for adults is drinking 12 eight-ounce glasses of fluids daily, but to replenish fluids lost if you live a more active lifestyle.
“There are many factors that play into the best fluid intake requirements for each person, such as weight, medical history, age, infections and activity requirements,” she said. “Talk with your doctor if you have questions or feel you have issues with dehydration and getting enough fluid intake.”