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Dehydration

Definition

Dehydration is the condition that results when too much body fluid is lost.

What is going on in the body?

The human body is about two-thirds water. When the total water level drops by only a few percent, the person becomes dehydrated. Dehydration results when fluid loss is greater than fluid intake.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The causes of dehydration include:
  • not drinking enough water during sports or daily activities
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • excessive sweating, such as from fever or exercise
  • excessive urine output, which can occur with diabetes or the use of diuretic drugs
Mild dehydration has few risks, and drinking fluids can easily rehydrate the person. Dehydration is sometimes severe. Serious cases usually occur in infants, people with acute or chronic illnesses, athletes, and the elderly. Unless severe dehydration is treated very quickly, death can result.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Early intervention is the best prevention. The body needs a constant source of fluids. Eight glasses of fluid a day are recommended to keep the body well hydrated. When a person is ill, especially with diarrhea or vomiting, clear fluids will help keep the body hydrated. Sports safety includes drinking plenty of water during and after exercise to prevent dehydration.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

The diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms and a physical exam. When the dehydration is moderate or severe, blood chemistry tests can give valuable information on imbalances in the blood chemicals known as electrolytes. This helps the healthcare provider to figure out the best type of fluid to give intravenously to correct the problem.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

There are usually no long-term effects with mild to moderate dehydration. Untreated severe dehydration may cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

There are no risks to others.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

The treatment for dehydration is to rehydrate the body. This can be done by drinking fluids or by getting fluids through an IV. Drinking fluids usually relieves mild dehydration quickly. Moderate to severe dehydration may need to be treated with fluids given through an IV.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

There are usually no side effects from either drinking fluids or getting them through an IV. If a dehydrated person drinks beverages that contain caffeine, such as teas, soda, and coffee, they may feel worse. Caffeine causes more urination, so it can undo the benefit of drinking fluids. Water, sports drinks, and special beverages for children such as Pedialyte help restore hydration and chemical balance. Pedialyte is sold in pharmacies and many food stores. It is mostly water, but also contains salts to prevent chemical imbalances in the blood.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

A person usually will feel much better once his or her body has been rehydrated.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Because dehydration is almost always caused by a specific event or disease, it usually does not need long-term monitoring. A person who tends to take in too little fluid should be encouraged to drink more consistently during the day and during sports activities.

Sources

Dehydration, National Library of Medicine)

Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary; 1997, Thomas and Craven

Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, 1996, Larson et al

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