Dehydration occurs when more fluid from the body is lost than absorbed. Dehydration leaves the body with insufficient water and fluids to carry out normal body functions. While dehydration can affect people of all ages, children, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic illnesses are especially susceptible to the effects of dehydration. Mild cases of dehydration can easily be remedied by drinking more fluids, but severe cases may require immediate medical attention.

Causes of Dehydration

Dehydration may be caused by not staying properly hydrated during exercise or in hot weather. In addition, dehydration may be caused by various factors that may include:

  • Fever
  • Excessive diarrhea
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive sweating

In some cases, dehydration may be caused by excessive urination due to illness or infection.

Symptoms of Dehydration

Symptoms of dehydration in adults can vary and may include excessive thirst and dry mouth, as well as:

  • Weak muscles
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Exhaustion
  • Infrequent, dark urination
  • Dry skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Confusion

Infants and children suffering from dehydration may experience the following symptoms: fever, dry mouth and tongue, crying without tears, a sunken fontanel or soft spot on the head, a dry diaper for over three hours and excessive sleepiness.

Diagnosis of Dehydration

Dehydration is diagnosed through a physical examination and a review of all symptoms. The following tests may help to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
If no specific cause of dehydration is determined, the doctor may perform additional tests to check for diabetes and liver or kidney problems.

Complications of Dehydration

Left untreated, dehydration can cause serious complications such as heat stroke, especially from excessive exercise and sweating, as well as:

  • Seizures
  • Hypovolemic, or low blood volume shock
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Kidney failure
  • Coma
  • If dehydration is not treated promptly and appropriately, it can be fatal.

Treatment of Dehydration

Most cases of dehydration can be treated by drinking more water and replacing electrolytes that have been lost. Doctors may recommend an oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte® for infants and children who have diarrhea, vomiting or fever. These solutions contain water and salts in specific proportions to replenish both fluids and electrolytes and are designed for easier digestion in children.

Severe cases of dehydration may require hospitalization, during which patients will receive intravenous fluids. To prevent dehydration from occurring, it is important to drink plenty of fluids and increase fluid intake during exercise, hot weather, and sickness.

To avoid complications, it is important to increase fluid intake if any signs of dehydration are present and to seek medical attention for severe cases.

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