How to Recognize Severe Dehydration and What to Do

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Dehydration could contribute to a life-threatening illness like heatstroke (hyperthermia).

 

Your body’s natural response to inadequate hydration is thirst. You should respond to thirst right away by drinking fluids – preferably water. Drink enough water to prevent yourself from feeling thirsty! Water has zero calories!

 

Between about 55% to about 78% of your body is made of water. Newborn babies are about 78% water, a year-old baby is 65%, adult men are about 60% and adult women are about 55%. Your brain is made up of 73% water, and so is your heart. Your bones are 31% water, muscles and kidneys are 79% and your skin is 64%. A whopping 83% of water makes up your lungs.

Water helps:

  • Aid digestion and get rid of waste.
  • Work your joints. Water lubricates them.
  • Make saliva (which you need to eat).
  • Balance your body’s chemicals. Your brain needs it to create hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • Deliver oxygen all over your body.
  • Cushion your bones.
  • Regulate your body temperature.
  • Act as a shock absorber for your brain, your spinal cord and, if you’re pregnant, your fetus.

 

Water is important to your body, especially in warm weather. It keeps your body from overheating. When you exercise, your muscles generate heat. To keep from burning up, your body needs to get rid of that heat. The main way the body discards heat in warm weather is through sweat. As sweat evaporates, it cools the tissues beneath. Lots of sweating reduces the body’s water level, and this loss of fluid affects normal bodily functions. Drink water!

 

Anyone can become dehydrated if they don’t take care of themselves and drink water. However, infants and children, especially when they’re sick, are at a higher risk because they may be unable to communicate that they’re thirsty. Monitor the amount of fluids your kids take in. Older adults are also at a higher risk. Their body’s fluid reserves shrink and their body’s ability to tell them they’re thirsty doesn’t work as effectively. This means they don’t carry as much water in their bodies and they can’t tell as easily when they’re thirsty. If you’re a caretaker of an elderly individual, especially one who may have memory problems, offer them drinks frequently. Even if they’re enduring an uncomfortable infection like a UTI (urinary tract infection), they still need to consume liquids.

 

If you suspect that you or someone else is severely dehydrated, seek immediate medical attention.

 

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Headache, delirium, confusion.
  • Tiredness (fatigue).
  • Dizziness, weakness, light-headedness.
  • Dry mouth and/or a dry cough.
  • High heart rate but low blood pressure.
  • Loss of appetite but maybe craving sugar.
  • Flushed (red) skin. Swollen feet. Muscle cramps.
  • Heat intolerance, or chills.
  • Dark-colored pee (urine). Your pee should be a pale clear color.

 

The best way to beat dehydration is to drink before you get thirsty. If you wait until after you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

 

Dehydration may be categorized as:

  • You just have to take in more fluids orally (by mouth). Drink water, but replace fluids with a drink that contains electrolytes if you experience significant sweating or fluid losses from vomiting and diarrhea. You should feel better after five or 10 minutes.
  • Moderate dehydration requires an IV (intravenous hydration). You’ll get this in an urgent care, emergency room, or hospital.
  • See a healthcare provider if your symptoms of dehydration are severe. Call 911 or go to an emergency room.

 

If you’re seeing a healthcare provider, they’ll figure out what level you’re at in order to assign you treatment.

 

Exactly how much water do you need? That depends on your weight, age, level of activity, age, the climate of your environment and other factors. Those with diabetes, heart disease, cystic fibrosis and other conditions may need to be cautious. The amount of water you need can also depend on the climate and what clothes you’re wearing. Although the standard advice is eight glasses of water per day (about 2.2 litters or 2.3 quarts per day for an adult female and about 3 litters or 3.2 quarts per day for an adult male), talk to your healthcare provider to confirm the right amount for you.

 

Keep track of how much fluid you drink. Drink water throughout the day, including at meals. Avoid soda, alcohol and caffeinated drinks. One way to make sure you are properly hydrated is to check your urine. If it’s clear, pale or straw-coloured, it’s OK. If it’s darker than that, keep drinking! To avoid dehydration, active people – people playing a sport or exercising – should drink at least 16 to 20 ounces of fluids one to two hours before an outdoor activity. After that, you should consume six to 12 ounces of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes when you’re outside. When you are finished with the activity, you should drink more. How much more? To replace what you have lost: at least another 16 to 24 ounces.

 

Some beverages are better than others at preventing dehydration. Water is all you need if you’re planning to be active in a low or moderate intensity activity, such as walking for only an hour or less. If you plan to exercise longer than that, or if you anticipate being out in the sun for more than a few hours, you may want to hydrate with some kind of sports drink. These replace not only fluid, but also electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which are lost through sweating. Too much or too little sodium and potassium in the body can cause trouble. Muscle cramping may be due to a deficiency of electrolytes. Beverages containing alcohol or caffeine aren’t recommended for optimal hydration. These fluids tend to pull water from the body and promote dehydration. Fruit juice and fruit drinks may have too many carbohydrates, too little sodium and they may upset your stomach. Adequate hydration will keep your summer activities safer and much more enjoyable. Keep an extra pitcher of water in the refrigerator and add fresh lemons, limes, cucumber or mint for a dash of flavour.

 

Severe dehydration is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. It can cause serious damage to your kidneys, heart, and brain. To avoid severe hydration, respond to signs of dehydration by drinking fluids that rehydrate you. You can also avoid even the hint of dehydration if you consume fluids throughout the day. How much you should drink depends on several factors, including your age, weight, and overall health. People with kidney disease, for example, need to drink less than other individuals. People who are physically active need to drink more than others. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor. You can also do a quick check by looking at the colour of your urine. If you’re peeing regularly each day and the colour is almost transparent, you’re probably well hydrated.

 

 

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