It is safe to say that we all have at least an intuitive understanding of what dehydration means. The ubiquitous water bottles sold at every convenience store and in the checkout line at grocery stores are there because there is an enormous market for people who are, in essence, taking care to not become dehydrated.
Dehydration is an issue for everyone. People who regularly exercise must take measures to prevent getting dehydrated. The beauty industry warns about the dangers of dehydration. Certainly, anyone who does physical work must be careful to avoid dehydration.
However, dehydration is quite serious. Though people may take it for granted that they are doing what is necessary to prevent dehydration, we need to understand the dangers and problems associated with dehydration to properly guard against the problems that come with dehydration.
Since dehydration appears to be such an obvious issue, perhaps we should take a closer look at exactly what we mean when we talk about dehydration. This will give us a better idea of what we should be doing to stay hydrated when we are doing things that drain us of water.
What exactly is dehydration? What are the symptoms of dehydration? And what are the best ways to stay hydrated as we exercise and exert ourselves physically?
What is Dehydration?
Put simply, dehydration happens when your body loses more fluids than you take in. When you are doing anything that expends fluids, seating, for example, you are losing fluids from your body. If you are not taking steps to replenish these fluids you will end up with a net loss. This condition constitutes dehydration.
The most common symptoms of dehydration are:
- Excessive sweating
If you are doing anything that leads to the loss of fluids and you start to experience any of these symptoms, you are in danger of causing real damage to your body.
The general recommendation for fluid intake is to drink 92 fluid (11.5 cups) ounces of water per day for women and 124 (15.5 cups) fluid ounces of water per day for men. Anyone engaged in a strenuous activity of any kind, whether that is exercise, work, or simply recreational activities, needs to increase the amount of water they drink in a day.
When we lose too much water from our bodies, organs, cells, and tissues fail to function as they should. This can lead to serious complications and medical conditions. If you lose too much water you can go into shock.
You can have mold or severe dehydration. Mild dehydration can be treated at home. In cases of severe dehydration, you will need immediate medical attention and should get to an emergency room.
What Causes Dehydration?
Our bodies normally lose water through sweating and urination. These are simply natural features of the biological processes that keep us alive. If we do not replenish the water we lose even at a baseline level, we become dehydrated. Any activity or situation that causes you to lose more water than you take in will inevitably lead to dehydration.
We lose water for common reasons:
Sweating is part of the natural process of cooling the body. When you become hot, your sweat glands become activated to release moisture through the body in order to cool you down. Sweating works by evaporation.
As sweat evaporates from the skin heat is drawn away from the body. The more you sweat, the more evaporation, and the more you are cooled off. Sweating has the added function of hydrating your skin and maintaining a balance of electrolytes in your body.
Sweat is made of natural salts and water. When you sweat excessively you lose large amounts of water and this leads to dehydration. The medical term for this is hyperhidrosis.
Illness that causes things like vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Vomiting and diarrhea cause the loss of large amounts of fluids from the body.
We also lose crucial electrolytes with these issues. Electrolytes are minerals we require for proper muscle function, blood chemistry, and organ functions. Our blood, urine, and other body fluids contain large amounts of these electrolytes. As we lose electrolytes in the form of vomiting and diarrhea, we are not only in danger of becoming dehydrated, we can also experience other serious problems with the loss of electrolyte.
Vomiting or diarrhea
These can lead to dangerous complications such as stroke or coma.
With a fever, you lose fluids through the surface of your skin. This is part of the process of your body trying to cool itself down. Fevers can also cause you to break out in sweats which will complicate the fluid loss. If you do not replenish fluids while you have a fever you will inevitably become dehydrated. This is particularly dangerous since a fever indicates that your body is already compromised with an illness.
Urination is the normal way the body releases toxins. There are chemical imbalances that can cause you to increase the amount you urinate. Again, if you do not stay vigilant and replenish fluids you run the risk of dehydration.
Symptoms of dehydration will vary depending on whether the condition is mild or severe. Some symptoms of dehydration will appear well before the full medical condition of dehydration sets in.
The symptoms of mild dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Increased thirst
- Decreased urination
- Diminished tear production
- Dry skin
The presence of any of these symptoms should make you pause and re-hydrate. Mild dehydration can most often be treated simply by replenishing fluids immediately.
If you do not treat mild dehydration, you run the risk of severe dehydration. The symptoms of severe dehydration include:
- Excessive thirst
- Lack of sweat production
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Sunken eyes
- Shriveled skin
- Dark urine
Severe dehydration constitutes a medical emergency. Get immediate medical help if you show any of these signs.
Anyone who exhibits symptoms of severe dehydration should get immediate medical attention. Children and older adults should be given immediate medical attention even for symptoms of mild dehydration.
Anyone who exhibits the following symptoms is experiencing a dangerous medical emergency:
- Severe diarrhea
- Blood in the stool
- Diarrhea that lasts 3 or more days
- Inability to keep fluids down
As you can see, there is a progression for the stages of dehydration. However, keep in mind that any stage of dehydration is potentially dangerous and should be addressed immediately. There is no acceptable level of dehydration.
The first course for medical professionals is to go over your symptoms to make sure they can rule out other conditions. A doctor should go over your medical history and do a routine check of vital signs. Things like increased heart rate and low blood pressure are indicative of dehydration. If these problems are present a doctor will do further testing.
Blood tests for electrolytes are a common check of fluid loss. A specific test looks at creatine levels in your blood. This is an indicator of how well your liver is functioning and can show the severity of dehydration.
A urinalysis will also indicate things like the presence of bacteria in your urine and a more precise measure of electrolytes in your body fluids. Dark urine, as we noted above, is a symptom of severe dehydration, but a precise measurement of electrolyte levels can show professionals just how serious the dehydration has become.
Losing fluids is just a natural process. We are all going to lose fluids simply by performing in any activity, however small. Obviously, exercise and physical exertion lead to increased loss of fluids. There are some risk factors and risk groups that should pay close attention to dehydration and the signs of dehydration.
Risk factors include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea increase the loss of fluids.
- Illness, especially illnesses that cause fever, infections, and other common illnesses cause a higher demand for fluids in the body. This will lead to increased loss of fluids.
- Diabetes. People with diabetes have a high risk of dehydration.
- Decreased water intake for any reason.
- Excessive exertion such as high-intensity workouts and hard physical labor.
- Extreme temperatures. Both extreme heat and extreme cold increase your risk of dehydration.
- Age. Elderly people are more susceptible to dehydration.
- Medications. Some medications cause you to urinate more frequently than normal.
- Infants and small children lose fluids more rapidly than adults.
Any of the risk factors are complicated by disabilities. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities often experience disruptions in the senses. This can make it difficult for them to know they are thirsty. People who have difficulties communicating may also be at risk.
Certainly, if you are an active person, take care to stay hydrated during all of your activities.
How to prevent dehydration?
Preventing dehydration is fairly simple. Make sure you continue to take in fluids, ideally water, throughout the course of your day. If you are doing anything that involves physical exertion, or, in extreme temperature, you will need to increase your fluid intake.
Here are four simple ways to prevent dehydration.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat foods that contain high amounts of water like fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid or limit the amount of coffee, tea, and soft drinks you consume.
- Avoid or limit alcoholic beverages.
Take extra care with infants and young children. Make sure elderly people and people who are in any way physically disabled have easy access to water and other fluids.
- Dehydration happens when we lose more fluids than we take in.
- Dehydration can be mild or severe. Mild dehydration can be treated at home. Severe dehydration requires immediate medical assistance.
- Anyone can be at risk for dehydration, but infants, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities are most at risk.
- Causes of dehydration include extreme temperatures (heat and cold), intense exertion, fever and illness, and certain medical conditions like diabetes.
- The best way to prevent dehydration is to pay close attention to the number of fluids you consume.
- Avoid dehydration by limiting things like caffeinated beverages and alcohol.
Best Hydration Multiplier Supplement
In addition to watching your fluid intake, you can also take a supplement that can help maintain electrolyte balance and avoid dehydration. NF Sports offers Hydrate 2.0 to help. If you are an athlete or someone who is particularly involved in fitness, Hydrate 2.0 is an ideal electrolyte mix that you can simply dissolve and water. Take this with you as your source of hydration as you work out or train.
Wrapping this up
Staying hydrated is largely a matter of common sense. If you are working out, exercising, or doing any kind of intense physical activity, you are going to sweat. This means you need to maintain your fluid and electrolyte levels. If you lose too much fluid, you run the risk of dehydration.
As we see above, dehydration can be a simple matter of getting some water or other healthy fluids into your body. But if dehydration becomes severe, you are in danger of serious medical problems. Severe dehydration can cause problems with your heart rate, blood pressure, and can lead to shock. If you show signs of severe dehydration seek immediate medical attention.
There are some groups that are particularly at risk for dehydration. Infants and children need to stay hydrated in the same as adults and they tend to lose fluid faster than adults. People with conditions such as diabetes are also at higher risk of dehydration.
The simple way to prevent dehydration is to pay attention to how much fluid you are drinking. Make sure to keep replenishing fluids throughout your day. Replenishing fluids and hydrating are especially important if you are an athlete or if you are the type of person who does physical work.
Keep a water source close by, carry your own water bottle, and stay hydrated. Avoiding dehydration is a simple matter, but the conditions that can result from dehydration are not so simple. If you suspect you have become dehydrated, look at the symptoms and signs listed above and take appropriate action.