Dehydration occurs when your body doesn’t have enough water to carry out its normal functions. This happens when you’re using more water than you’re consuming.
Anyone can experience dehydration symptoms. However, the condition is most concerning in young children and older adults. Children may be unable to communicate what they’re experiencing, and older adults may have diminished “thirst signals,” which leaves them more susceptible to dehydration.
Unaddressed dehydration can lead to life-threatening medical issues such as heat stroke.
It doesn’t take much of a water deficit to become dehydrated. An imbalance of just 1.5% of your body’s water content can cause physical signs of dehydration. They include:
- Extreme thirst
- Dehydration headache
- Dry mouth and lips
- Bad breath
- Skin redness
- Heat intolerance
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Lack of tears
- Dark-colored urine
- Decreased appetite (but sometimes with sugar cravings)
- Muscle cramps
- Swollen feet
- Low blood pressure with increased heart rate
Dehydration can also cause mental and emotional symptoms, including confusion, memory problems, anxiety, and irritability.
What Causes Dehydration?
You become dehydrated when your body’s water usage exceeds your intake. Certain conditions can cause that imbalance to occur faster. They include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea. You can become dehydrated if you’re vomiting or experiencing diarrhea, especially with frequent episodes.
- Excessive sweating. Sweat is mostly water, so if you’re exercising vigorously, are in a hot, humid environment, or both, your risk of dehydration increases.
- Fever. Your body uses more fluids when you have a fever. And if your fever is a symptom of a condition that’s also causing vomiting or diarrhea, you lose fluid even faster.
- Increased urination. Some medications can cause you to urinate more often than usual. If you don’t adjust your water consumption to compensate, you can become dehydrated.
Dehydration Diagnosis and Treatment
In many cases, you can “diagnose” dehydration in yourself by considering the symptoms you’re experiencing and how much water you’ve consumed recently. Doctors diagnose dehydration by looking at the results of various tests, including your levels of:
- Urine sodium
- Plasma serum osmolality (the concentration of specific particles in your blood plasma)
- Blood urea nitrogen
Based on the findings, your doctor may determine that you have mild, moderate, or severe dehydration. Each has a different treatment or response.
- Mild dehydration: Increase your water consumption. If you’ve had significant fluid loss from vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating, you should drink something containing electrolytes, like a sports drink or coconut water.
- Moderate dehydration: This level requires that you get IV (intravenous) fluids at an urgent care center or emergency room.
- Severe dehydration: If you have severe symptoms, you should get to an emergency room if you can do so safely or call 911. Severe dehydration can be fatal if not addressed promptly.
How to Prevent Dehydration
The best way to prevent dehydration is to consume water throughout your day. It’s important to note that if you’re thirsty, you’re already experiencing a water deficit.
If you’re wondering, “How much water should I drink?” try to consume eight 8-ounce glasses daily. Your needs may vary, but 64 ounces is a good starting point. People often ask, “What should I drink?” Typically, what your body needs is plain water. As noted above, there may be times when you should consider an electrolyte drink, but in general, good old H2O works well!
Learn About Our Urgent Care Services
If you need prompt medical care for dehydration, Baptist Health has several urgent care clinics around the region. It’s a good idea to find the nearest one before you need it. That way, if an urgent medical issue arises, you know right where to go!