What are the complications of dehydration?
Complications of dehydration may occur because of the consequences of dehydration, and/or because of the underlying disease or situation that causes the fluid loss.
Kidney failure is a common occurrence
and often is reversible, if it is due to dehydration and is treated early. As dehydration progresses, the volume of fluid in the
body decreases, and blood pressure may fall. This can decrease blood flow to vital organs
including the kidneys, and like any organ with a decreased blood flow; it has the potential to fail to do its job.
Decreased blood supply to the brain may cause
confusion and even
When the fluid loss overwhelms the body's ability to compensate, blood flow and
oxygen delivery to the body's vital organs become inadequate and cell and organ
function can begin to fail.
If enough organs begin to malfunction, the body itself may fail and death can
Heat-related illnesses and associated complications
In heat-related illness, the body's attempt to cool itself by sweating may cause dehydration to the point that muscles may go into spasm (heat cramps). It is often the muscles that are being stressed that will spasm (for example, in people who work outside in a hot environment, arm and leg muscles may spasm from lifting and moving heavy objects or equipment; in athletes, leg muscles may
cramp from running). As fluid loss increases, the symptoms of
heat exhaustion can occur
and include weakness, lightheadedness, nausea, and vomiting. If the symptoms are
recognized and the patient isn't moved from the heat and rehydrated,
the situation may progress to
heat stroke. The
patient will stop sweating, have a change in mental status that includes
confusion and coma, and the body temperature may spike to 106 F (41 C) or
higher. Heat stroke is a true medical emergency and 911 or the
emergency response system should be activated immediately in this situation.
In dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities may occur since important chemicals (like sodium, potassium,
and chloride) are lost from the body through sweat. For example, patients with profuse diarrhea or
vomiting may lose significant amounts of potassium, causing muscle weakness and heart rhythm disturbances. The
health care professional may decide to monitor electrolyte levels by checking blood tests. Examples of symptoms caused by abnormal electrolyte levels include muscle weakness due to low potassium,
heart rhythm disturbances due to either low or
high potassium, and
seizures due to low (hyponatremia)
or high sodium (hypernatremia). In many patients with dehydration, the kidneys are able to
compensate and regulate electrolyte levels.
It is important to remember that dehydration does not occur quickly, and sometimes it may take hours to slowly correct the fluid deficit and allow the electrolytes to redistribute themselves appropriately in the different spaces in the body. If rehydration is done too slowly, the patient may remain hypotensive and in shock for too long. If done too quickly, water and electrolyte concentrations within organ cells can be negatively affected, causing cells to swell and eventually