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 Pictures Slideshow: Causes, Symptoms and Tips to Stay Hydrated

Dehydration Pictures Slideshow: Causes, Symptoms and Tips to Stay Hydrated

What about dehydration in children?

Millions of children die worldwide each year because of dehydration, often because of diarrhea. As well, the temperature regulation and sweat mechanism of infants are not well developed, and this increases their risk of heat-related illness.

It is important to remember that infants and children are dependent upon others to provide them with water and nutrition. Infants cannot tell their parents or care providers when they are thirsty. Enough fluid needs to be provided so that the dehydration can be prevented. This is especially true if increased water loss occurs because of fever, vomiting or diarrhea.

In children, symptoms of dehydration increase as the level of dehydration increases.

Level of dehydration Estimated fluid loss Signs and Symptoms in Children

Level of dehydration Estimated fluid loss Signs and symptoms
Minimal <3% of body weight none
Mild to moderate <10% of body weight Fussy, tired, irritable child. Dry mucous membranes (mouth, tongue), increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, decreased urine output, increased thirst
Severe 10% of body weight or more Listless, lethargic, unconscious. Too weak to cry. Sunken eyes, sunken fontanelle (soft spot of skull). Increased heart rate, weak pulses, and rapid shallow breathing. Cool, mottled skin. No urine output (dry diapers). Too weak to suckle or drink fluids. Loss of muscle tone with the child appearing "floppy."

Infants and children respond well to fluid replacement, and often oral rehydration therapy (ORT) can treat dehydration. Small, frequent sips of fluid replacement solutions such as Pedialyte or Gatorade may be enough to prevent the need for intravenous fluids. In ORT, replacement begins with 5cc or one teaspoon of fluid every 5-10 minutes. If this is tolerated without vomiting, the amount of fluid is doubled, again providing small amounts every few minutes. However, if the child is too ill to drink or cannot tolerate even small sips of fluid, medical care should be accessed immediately.

Intravenous fluids can rehydrate the infant or child while the underlying illness is evaluated and treated. Occasionally, there is difficulty in placing an intravenous line and an intraosseous (inside the bone) needle can be placed, usually in the tibia (shin bone) that allows fluid resuscitation.

In children who are markedly dehydrated, blood tests may be used to monitor electrolytes, kidney function, and acid-base balance in the body.

It is important to find the reason for the illness because dehydration is the result of a disease process, not the cause of it.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2015
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