A person is said to be dehydrated when there is more loss of fluid in the body than the intake of the required amount of fluid. Dehydration occurs when there is loss of water that can interfere with the normal functioning of the body. This can happen when a person does vigorous exercise without drinking adequate water, especially when the weather is hot, when there is excessive sweating, intense diarrhoea and vomiting or fever.
The body constantly loses water in the form of sweat, urine, stools, etc. Along with water content, the body also loses electrolytes. Both of these are replenished by the body to maintain a balance. In dehydration, this balance gets affected, and the body becomes unable to maintain this balance and its normal metabolic processes.
Dehydration can be mild, moderate or severe. Mild and moderate dehydration can be treated by increasing the intake of water and replenishing the lost fluid with fluids that contain electrolytes. Severe dehydration requires immediate attention and hospitalization.
Dehydration can happen to anybody, however, infants, children and individuals with chronic ailments are more susceptible to dehydration. If dehydration is left untreated, it can cause death.
Dehydration is common in regions where the climate is hot, and scarcity of drinking water is a concern. Dehydration is also common in countries where incidence of diarrhoea caused due to infections is higher. In Myanmar, certain regions have very hot climates, and mostly, tourists who cannot adjust to the heat experience dehydration.
Dehydration can be caused due to a number of conditions like fevers, diarrhoea, vomiting, diabetes, burns, certain medications, excessive sweating, and urination. Following are some of the common symptoms of mild and moderate dehydration.
- Dry and sticky feeling in the mouth
- Excessive thirst
- Tiredness, weakness and sleepiness
- Dry skin
- Headaches and dizziness
- Less of urine and dark coloured urine
- Few or no tears in children
- Less of wet diapers.
Severe cases of dehydration causes symptoms like:
- Extreme thirst
- Sunken eyes
- Shrivelled or dry skin
- Low blood pressure
- Heavy and rapid breathing, rapid heart beat
- Delirium and loss of consciousness
When should I see a doctor?
Usually, mild to moderate dehydration in adults and children can be treated with increasing the intake of water and fluids containing electrolytes. However, immediate medical attention is required for adults and children who develop severe symptoms like –
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe diarrhoea with vomiting and fever
- Bloody or black coloured stool
- Severe constipation
The best treatment for dehydration is increasing intake of water and fluids with electrolytes. When an individual is taken to the emergency room, doctors first concentrate on restoring bodily fluids and then focus on treating any underlying cause of dehydration.
In mild and moderate dehydration, if there is no vomiting and nausea, fluid intake is advised, else in cases of severe dehydration, fluids are replaced via IV’s. Children can be given oral rehydration solutions like Pedialyte, whereas breast fed babies should be breastfed regularly.
Dehydrated individuals should avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol, milk, fruit juices or gelatinous drinks, especially if dehydration is accompanied with diarrhoea.
It is most important to prevent dehydration in the first place. Continuous intake of water and a balanced healthy diet is recommended for people of all ages. Those who exercise should take extra care to keep the body hydrated with enough water. Similarly, people living in areas with extremely hot weathers should do the same.
Finally having the correct knowledge about signs and symptoms of dehydration is essential.
The prognosis for the treatment of mild and moderate dehydration is usually good with replenishment of lost bodily fluids and rest, along with detection and treatment of the underlying cause of dehydration.
The prognosis, however, can worsen if the severity of the dehydration increases, the cause of dehydration is not detected in time, or if dehydration is left untreated.