Treating Dehydration

by April Reinhardt
(last updated September 5, 2008)

When the body excretes more fluids than it consumes, dehydration occurs. While it is easy to conclude that the simple remedy for dehydration is to drink more fluids, there are some medical causes of dehydration requiring more complex solutions. Dehydration can be caused by:

  • Infectious diseases such as gastroenteritis and cholera.
  • Malnutrition and high fever.
  • Fasting.
  • Electrolyte disturbances.
  • Rapid weight loss.
  • Anorexia and bulimia.
  • Diabetes and hyperglycemia.
  • Prolonged exposure to dry air or desert conditions.
  • Prolonged physical activity in a hot environment without consuming water.
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, and hyperthermia.
  • Burns, blood loss, and shock.
  • Illicit drug use.

Serious health conditions can result from prolonged dehydration, such as seizures, heat stroke, and kidney failure. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of dehydration, and knowing how to treat it, can help prevent the condition from becoming a serious situation. Symptoms may include:

  • Severe headaches.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Weakness and confusion.
  • Thick saliva.
  • Dizziness and fainting.
  • Dark and decreased urine volume.
  • Fever and fatigue.

The best way to treat dehydration is to stop fluid loss by increasing fluid intake. While drinking commercial fluids containing electrolytes does increase fluid intake, water is preferable. The body will balance its own electrolyte levels when properly hydrated, and water intake is the most natural way to create that balance. For mild dehydration cases, drink room temperature water and avoid beverages containing caffeine such as tea, soda, and coffee. Moderate and severe dehydration may require hospitalization for IV fluid treatments.

There are a few things you can do to prevent dehydration, including:

  • Drink the recommended eight to ten glasses of water each day.
  • Avoid diets that recommend limited fluid intake.
  • Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink fluids.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol, as they can be dehydrating.
  • In warm climates and on hot days, drink plenty of fluids.
  • Prepare for sports activities by hydrating your body with fluids at least two hours before the event.

Avoid unnecessary sweating when dehydrated, as it wastes water. It is better not to eat food if you are dehydrated, since water is necessary for digestion. In severe cases of dehydration, seek immediate medical attention. Prolonged bouts of vomiting or diarrhea require proper replacement of fluids in the form of IV solutions and oral electrolytes.

A good axiom for avoiding dehydration during strenuous activity or in humid environments is monitoring the quality and frequency of urination. If the urine is lightly colored or colorless, and you have a full bladder every three to five hours, then chances are that hydration is adequate.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...

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