Whether you’re an athlete or just enjoying the outdoors, it’s important to drink plenty of water to stay properly hydrated. Sounds simple, but dehydration is more than a matter of being hot and thirsty.
More than half of the body’s weight is water – so, it’s important to keep a proper level of fluid in the body to support the body’s functions such as maintaining proper body temperature, removing waste through our digestive and urinary systems, and lubricating joints.
Dehydration occurs when the body has lost more fluid than has been replaced through drinking water and other liquids. Our body loses water when we breathe, sweat, urinate, and have a bowel movement. Dehydration can also occur because of illness.
Dehydration is generally classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the amount of fluid lost and not replaced. The condition is easily treated when recognized early, but if dehydration persists or worsens, it can become a life-threatening health emergency. Mild dehydration is a loss of 3-to-5% of body weight; moderate, 6-to-9% body weight; and severe, more than 10% of body weight.
Due to low body weight, infants and young children are particularly susceptible to dehydration. The elderly also are at a higher risk because as the body ages, its ability to conserve water is reduced, and the brain’s ability to sense dehydration decreases, as well. This means that dehydration can progress to a serious level, more quickly than you might think.
Symptoms of Dehydration
By the time you feel thirsty, the body has already lost significant amounts of fluid, so don’t rely on thirst as the only indicator of whether you’re properly hydrated.
Symptoms for mild dehydration include:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Low urine output or dark colored urine
- Muscle cramps
- Reduced sweat or tear production
- Symptoms for severe dehydration include:
- Shriveled skin
- Heart palpitations
- Lethargy (extreme sluggishness)
- Absence of sweat
For mild dehydration, drinking fluids such as water, sports drinks, or an electrolyte solution will often help relieve symptoms. Drink small amounts of fluid, slowly. If outdoors, take a break from the sun and find a way to gradually cool your body.
Severe dehydration can be life-threatening, causing seizures, brain damage or death. If someone is experiencing symptoms of severe dehydration, call 911 or go immediately to the nearest emergency room. Intravenous fluids and hospitalization may be necessary to treat moderate to severe dehydration.
Think Ounces of Prevention
The easiest way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of water each day. A popular rule of thumb for adults is the “8 x 8” rule: eight, 8 oz. cups of water daily. Food accounts for roughly 20% of total daily fluid intake, so 64 oz. of fluid along with a normal diet, should be adequate. Liquids other than water, such as tea and coffee, count toward daily intake, but because they have caffeine, they are also diuretics, which cause the body to lose fluid. Therefore, it’s best to get most of your fluid intake from non-caffeinated beverages, and consume tea, coffee, and soda in moderation.
Every body is different. Talk with your doctor about your diet, exercise habits, and any health conditions that may impact your body’s fluid requirements and risk for dehydration.
Said Al Zein, MD, nephrologist, is accepting new patients and referrals from northcentral Pennsylvania and southcentral New York at Nephrology Services, UPMC Cole Irwin Medical Arts Center, 1001 E. Second St., Coudersport. Dr. Zein earned his medical degree from the University of Damascus, Syria. He completed his residency in internal medicine at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, and his fellowship in nephrology at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 814-260-5576.