Dehydration: Causes and Prevention

What is dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when the body fluid loss exceeds the intake.
Dehydration occurs when the body fluid loss exceeds the intake.

Dehydration occurs when the body fluid loss exceeds the intake. If the lost fluid is not replaced, it will eventually lead to a decrease in fluid levels in the body, affecting normal body functions. The most prominent effect of dehydration is low blood pressure, which triggers the stress response in the body.

Dehydration can occur in anyone, including animals. It can be dangerous in babies, young children, and older adults.

What causes dehydration?

Dehydration may be caused due to the following:

  • Decreased fluid intake: Not consuming enough fluids due to sickness, a busy schedule, or lack of access to water while exercising, traveling, or hiking, etc.
  • Excessive sweating: Excessive sweating due to vigorous exercise or hot and humid climates can cause increased fluid loss if not replaced appropriately.
  • Increased urination: Increased urination may occur because of medical conditions like uncontrolled diabetes or certain medications, such as diuretics and some blood pressure medications.
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting: Severe, acute diarrhea or vomiting can cause loss of water and electrolytes in a short amount of time. The fluid loss increases if vomiting and diarrhea are both present.
  • Fever: The higher the fever, the more dehydrated one becomes.

Risk factors of dehydration include:

  • Infants and children: Infants and children are especially vulnerable to dehydration and experience severe diarrhea and vomiting. Due to their smaller body size, they tend to lose a higher proportion of fluids compared to the volume of their body. Babies and children are also unable to complain of thirst, causing dehydration.
  • Elderly: With increasing age, the body's fluid reserve and the body’s ability to conserve water decreases. Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and certain medications can further lead to dehydration.
  • Weather: Hot and humid weather causes excessive sweating and increases the risk of dehydration and heatstroke.
  • Chronic illnesses: Chronic medical conditions like diabetes or kidney disease can increase urination and increase the risk of dehydration. Acute medical conditions like sore throat or tonsillitis increase the risk of dehydration due to the patient’s inability to drink fluids due to pain.

What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration?

Thirst may always be a reliable indicator of dehydration. Many may not feel thirsty until dehydration occurs; hence, it is recommended to increase fluid intake when there is a risk of dehydration to prevent dehydration. The signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

Signs and symptoms in infant and children are

  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • No tears when crying
  • Decreased urination
  • Sunken eyes, cheeks
  • Excessive crying
  • Irritability
  • When the skin is pinched, it retracts back slowly.

Signs and symptoms in adults are

  • Extreme thirst
  • Dryness of the mouth and tongue
  • Dry eyes
  • Decreased urination
  • Deep yellow colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • When the skin is pinched, it retracts back slowly.

How can dehydration be prevented?

The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of fluids and eat foods that are high in water content, such as fruits and vegetables. It is recommended to drink six to eight glasses per day.

Fluid intake may need to be increased in the following conditions to prevent dehydration:

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Hot and humid or cold weather
  • Chronic illness

Medical attention is required to prevent dehydration and associated complications in the following conditions:

  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting for more than 24 hours
  • High-grade fever
  • Change in mood (irritability) or disorientation, lethargy, or loss of consciousness
  • Unable to drink fluids or hold down fluids due to vomiting
  • Bloodstained or black colored stools
  • Unable to pass urine in the last 24 hours


What percentage of the human body is water? See Answer

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