Dehydration - Symptoms, Causes & Prevention
Water earns a pretty important spot as the lifesaving fluid. Water is the main constituent of cells, tissues, and organs, water acts as a solvent for transportation of nutrients, regulates body temperature, aids in digestion, acts as a medium for excretion, metabolism, a lubricant for joints, helps regulate acid-base balance. Water accounts for 60% of body weight in healthy adults with normal body mass index.
Water and electrolytes are essential to human physiology and we need to maintain a proper balance of these in our system or we’ll start to experience symptoms of dehydration. Humans, land animals, birds, vertebrates, and reptiles have evolved an exquisitely sensitive network of physiological control to maintain body water and fluid intake by thirst.
Here’s a rundown of what you need to know about dehydration, and tips on how to beat dehydration.
WHAT IS DEHYDRATION?
‘Dehydration’ literally means the opposite of ‘hydration’. It is a state that occurs when the balance between water intake and loss is disrupted (a decrease in total body water content due to fluid loss, diminished fluid intake). When the body loses more water than it takes in, dehydration results. Whenever you lose fluids from the body, you don’t just lose water, but you also lose critical electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride which eventually result in health problems.
A person can become dehydrated if he loses as little as 3% of his body weight from water depletion.
CAUSES OF DEHYDRATION
Losing too much water and taking in too little fluid is the chief cause of dehydration. You don’t drink water because you are busy, you’re sick (persistent vomiting, diarrhea), you lack access to clean/potable water (especially while traveling). Profuse sweating (particularly with prolonged exertion), use of drugs that increase urine excretion (diuretics), exposure to a hot environment (excessive heat causes a rise in internal temperature and your body has no other option than to sweat to compensate for the heat which expels liquids out of the system). In older people obtaining fluids may be difficult (usually because of restricted mobility), also older people sense thirst more slowly (as their thirst center may not function well) and less intensely than younger people.
WHO IS MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP DEHYDRATION?
Any individual who doesn’t care about adequate water intake is likely to develop dehydration. People who are tangled up in a busy lifestyle and don’t take regular water breaks, people with long-term health conditions such as diabetes, or those prone to regular alcohol consumption are likely to suffer from dehydration. Those who experience diarrhea, vomiting, children, and infants who don’t always respond to nature’s call to drink water, their low body weight makes them more sensitive to even small amounts of fluid loss). Older people are more susceptible to dehydration owing to several reasons like decreased thirst response, medications, or underlying health conditions.
SYMPTOMS OF DEHYDRATION
Thirst, disruption in mood and cognitive functioning, decreased salivary output, reduced sweating, dry mouth/lips, sticky tongue, mild headache, reduced skin elasticity, muscle cramping (due to loss of electrolytes that are expelled through perspiration), reduced urine production, constipation, the occurrence of UTI (associated with low fluid intake or low urine output), peeing on an infrequent basis (your pee has pale orange or brown colour instead of yellow), increased hunger (it’s the body craving water, but we interpret it as a need for food) are the common and immediate symptoms of dehydration.
In severe dehydration, dizziness (dehydration can cause low blood pressure, your brain doesn’t get the nutrients it needs), palpitation/increased heart rate (your heart has to work harder when there’s less water in your blood), shortness of breath, heat stroke or hyperthermia may develop as the body’s temperature-regulating mechanism falters due to lack of water. Your blood volume may lower because your body doesn’t have any fluids (water moves from inside of the cells to the bloodstream to maintain the needed amount of blood volume) and your blood pressure may fall, causing lightheadedness or fainting, particularly upon standing.
HOW TO BEAT DEHYDRATION?
While several remedies can be suggested to reverse dehydration, it’s a lot easier to stay hydrated than to reverse dehydration.
- Drink water throughout the day including at meals (the standard advice is 8 glasses of water per day).
- Keep track of how much fluid you drink, keep a water bottle on your desk (you are more likely to drink water if it’s right next to you), and carry water wherever you go.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, sugary drinks, alcohol, and carbonated beverages as they sap your body’s fluids.
- Avoid processed foods, junk foods that exaggerate dehydration issues.
- People actively involved in sports, or who do regular workouts are advised to drink sports beverages that contain sodium.
- Avoid spending time outdoors during the hottest times of the day.
- Swap your snacks like chips, wafers for water-based fruits, and veggies like strawberries, bananas, papaya, avocado, carrots, cucumbers, watermelon, spinach, zucchini, cabbage, lettuce, oranges, and grapes.
- You can also add flavour like a wedge of lime or mint to water to make drinking water more fun.
- Consume veggie soups, smoothies, coconut water, and buttermilk which help to keep you adequately hydrated.
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