Dehydration

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

View Dehydration Slideshow

Quick GuideDehydration: Causes, Symptoms and Tips to Stay Hydrated

Dehydration: Causes, Symptoms and Tips to Stay Hydrated

What causes dehydration?

Dehydration occurs because there is too much water lost, not enough water taken in, or most commonly, a combination of the two.

  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea is the most common reason for a person to lose excess amounts of water. A significant amount of water can be lost with each bowel movement. Worldwide, more than four million children die each year because of dehydration from diarrhea.
  • Vomiting: Vomiting can also be a cause of fluid loss. Not only can an individual lose fluid in the vomitus, but it may be difficult to replace water by drinking because of that same nausea and vomiting.
  • Sweat: The body can lose significant amounts of water in the form of sweat when it tries to cool itself. Whether the body temperature is increased because of working or exercising in a hot environment or because a fever is present due to an infection; the body uses water in the form of sweat to cool itself. Depending upon weather conditions, a brisk walk may generate up to 16 ounces of sweat (a pound of water) an hour to allow body cooling, and that water needs to be replaced by the thirst mechanism signaling the person to drink fluids.
  • Diabetes: In people with diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels cause sugar to spill into the urine and water then follows, which may cause significant dehydration. For this reason, frequent urination and excessive thirst are among the early symptoms of diabetes.
  • Burns: The skin acts as a protective barrier for the body and is also responsible for regulating fluid loss. Burn victims become dehydrated because the damaged skin cannot prevent fluid from seeping out of the body. Other inflammatory diseases of the skin such as toxic epidermal necrolysis, also may be associated with significant fluid loss.
  • Inability to drink fluids: The inability to drink adequately is the other potential cause of dehydration. Whether it is the lack of availability of water, intense nausea with or without vomiting, or the lack of strength to drink. This coupled with routine or extraordinary water losses can compound the degree of dehydration.

Dehydration pictures

The body is able to monitor the amount of fluid it needs to function. The thirst mechanism signals the body to drink water when the body is dry. Moreover, hormones like anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) work with the kidney to limit the amount of water lost in the urine when the body needs to conserve water (diuretic = increased excretion of water).

Dynamic Picture of Rehydration
Dynamic Picture of Dehydration
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2015

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