Dehydration: How to Prevent and Cure

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Our body can function properly thanks to water. A state of dehydration can cause a large number of symptoms, from the mildest – such as thirst or dry skin – to very serious, sometimes even lethal. We know we can’t go long without water, but what are the risks of dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when there is a lack of water in the body , i.e. when the amount of water lost is greater than what is taken in. This can cause an alteration in the levels of electrolytes in the body , such as sodium and potassium.

Water deficiency can be caused by insufficient fluid intake, but it can also be the result of underlying diseases, and could even result from taking some types of medicines.

Since the human body is mostly made up of water (about 60-70% of the weight of an adult is in fact made up of this liquid), proper daily hydration is essential to keep us in good health and prevent the development of diseases potentially very serious.

But have you ever wondered exactly what happens to the body when it’s dehydrated ? What symptoms does dehydration give, and how to recognize them and – above all – prevent them?

In this article we will understand what the meaning of dehydration is, what it means for our health and how to avoid this condition with simple good daily habits.

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Dehydration: Causes

First, in order to better understand the problem of dehydration, we need to examine the possible causes. We tend to believe that the lack of liquids is the result of the unhealthy habit of not drinking enough water (the famous and inevitable 2 liters a day). In reality, there may be other causes behind this condition as well.

Dehydration can in fact arise from factors such as:

  • Taking diuretic drugs , which increase urine output
  • Excessive sweating , a phenomenon that occurs, for example, when it’s very hot and we do physical activities outdoors
  • Diarrhea and vomiting : dehydration is a real risk in people who have frequent episodes of vomiting or diarrhea, so it is advisable to hydrate well in such situations
  • Insufficient intake of water and foods containing liquids, such as vegetables and fruit
  • Underlying conditions : Diabetes , Addison’s disease , gastroenteritis and other conditions can increase fluid loss, potentially causing a state of dehydration.

Dehydration: Children and the Elderly Most at Risk

Although dehydration is a problem that can affect anyone and at any age, there are categories of people more at risk than others.

For example, older people are at greater risk , as they may lose the stimulus to thirst as they age, and may therefore not drink adequately. It is therefore important to offer them liquids regularly, in order to prevent a risky state of dehydration.

Children are also at greater risk , who may not absorb enough liquids due to more frequent episodes of vomiting and diarrhea .

Finally, particular attention must also be paid to people with chronic diseases (such as diabetes and nephropathies) and those taking diuretic drugs , who due to these factors could urinate more often and more easily run into a state of dehydration.

Symptoms of Dehydration in Adults, Children and the Elderly

Symptoms of dehydration are largely the same across all age groups, but some groups may find certain signs more prominent than others. In adults, symptoms of dehydration (mild to moderate) that you should look out for usually include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry and less elastic skin
  • Tendency to sweat less than usual
  • Fast heartbeat and palpitations
  • Decreased urine output : urinating less than 4 times a day
  • Urine of a very dark color and with a very strong smell
  • Dry mouth
  • Abnormal tiredness.

When dehydration is severe , other symptoms may occur, such as low blood pressure and dizziness (especially when standing up). Severe and prolonged dehydration can compromise the functionality of many organs, such as the kidneys, liver and brain, endangering the very survival of the person.

Signs of Dehydration in Infants and Children

It is extremely important to be able to identify and know how to recognize the symptoms of dehydration in children and infants . When children are very young they cannot clearly express that they are very thirsty, nor can they make it clear that they feel abnormally tired. It is up to the parent to be able to identify the signs of a state of poor hydration of the body, observing any symptoms such as:

  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Absence of tears when crying
  • Do not wet the diaper for more than 3 hours
  • Lethargy and unusual tiredness
  • Sunken eyes.

Dehydration in the Elderly

We have seen that among the categories most at risk of incurring this medical problem are the elderly . But for what reason? In addition to the reduced feeling of thirst , which could occur during aging, among the causes of dehydration in the elderly we also mention the possible intake of drugs that increase urine output, such as diuretics, antihistamines and laxatives, and the potential presence of underlying diseases such as kidney disease.

How to Understand When an Elderly Person is Dehydrated?

It is important to know how to recognize the signs of dehydration in the elderly . Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Heachache
  • Nervousness
  • General malaise
  • Weakness
  • Cramps
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Changes in breathing
  • Swelling
  • Drop in blood pressure when standing up.

In the elderly, as well as in adults and children, insufficient hydration can lead to very serious consequences , such as heat stroke , brain and kidney damage . For this reason it is important to know how to recognize the symptoms and, even more, to prevent this condition.

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Dehydration: Consequences

In cases of severe dehydration , the consequences could be very serious, even compromising the patient’s health and survival.

Insufficient hydration can in fact damage some organs of the body, especially the kidneys, heart and brain. In more serious cases, the subject may develop kidney complications , even running the risk of kidney failure.

Severe dehydration can also cause seizures due to electrolyte decompensation. More severely ill patients may also experience hypovolemic shock , one of the most serious and life-threatening complications, a medical emergency that occurs when there is a significant reduction in the volume of blood present in the body.

When to Go to the Hospital for Dehydration?

When you have dehydration, when is it appropriate to seek medical advice? You will need to contact your doctor or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms such as:

  • Feeling dizzy and very confused
  • Feeling sudden and unusual tiredness
  • Breathe very fast
  • Have a fast heartbeat
  • Note insufficient urination and the presence of dark colored urine
  • Feeling faint and dizzy

In children, it will be important to notice the following signs early:

  • The child cries without tears in an unusual way
  • Sunken fontanelle in the newborn
  • The child has wrinkled skin, a dry mouth, and sunken eyes.

How to Diagnose Dehydration?

It is possible to identify a state of mild or severe dehydration based on the symptoms experienced by the patient. In some cases, the doctor will perform a series of follow-up tests and examinations to determine the exact severity of the situation.

It will also be essential to identify the cause of the problem, in order to treat it and prevent future episodes.

In the diagnosis phase, the doctor will evaluate blood values ​​(blood tests) to measure the concentration of sodium and other minerals (looking for electrolyte values). Urine tests and other tests to evaluate kidney function and the degree of dehydration will also be indicated.

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Dehydration: Remedies and Treatment

What to do in case of dehydration? If the problem should be minor (such as not to require medical and hospital intervention), it may be sufficient to take enough liquids to rehydrate the body. But what to drink to hydrate ? In many cases, water represents a more than adequate solution, while in the most serious cases it may be necessary to take rehydrating solutions containing electrolytes , in order to make up for the temporary shortage.

In the most critical cases, medical intervention will be necessary, with the administration of a rehydrating electrolyte solution intravenously .

How Long Does it Take for the Body to Rehydrate?

The answer depends on how dehydrated you are. In less severe cases, the problem may resolve itself in less than a day, while in more severe cases , hospitalization and treatment may be required for a few days.

In all cases, it is essential to identify the origin of the problem (be it a pathology, an incorrect lifestyle, a tendency to drink too little or a particular drug) and treat it appropriately.

Prevention

Under normal conditions, it is easy to be able to prevent a state of dehydration and avoid unpleasant complications. An adult person should drink about 2 liters of water every day , increasing the level of hydration during the hottest days and when exercising, especially if intense.

It will be important to consume foods rich in water , such as fruit and vegetables, and to take electrolyte drinks before playing sports.

If you are taking diuretics or other medicines that cause fluid loss, and if you have any medical conditions that can increase your risk of dehydration, consult your doctor for advice to help protect your health.

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