Fluids are essential for the normal functioning of cells, tissues and organs. When you experience an excessive loss of fluids, it is likely to lead to many side effects. Once you notice such a heavy loss, it becomes extremely important to replenish your body with needful fluids as quickly as possible. Though milder spells of dehydration can be treated at your home, a relatively acute spell may need medical attention. There are many reasons why you may feel dehydrated – chief among them is excessive sweating, fever or sickness, increased output of urine, etc. You are advised to know the common signs of excessive loss of fluids and the side effects associated with it. Such knowledge can help restore fluid balance in your body.
Dehydration occurs if you lose plenty of fluids – i.e., if the loss is much more than the supply of fluids to your body. Fluids – especially, water – forms upto 70% of your body’s weight. Without water, your body can never work normally, and an inadequate availability of water is likely to impact most of its activities. The presence of needful quantities of fluids helps lubricating your joints, enables maintenance of temperature levels as well as assists in easier discharge of waste in the form of sweat, urine and stool.
On an average, women need about 2.7 liters of fluids every day; on the other hand, men need nearly 3.7 liters each day. These measurements translate to almost 12 cups and 16 cups for women and men, respectively. You need to remember the 80:20 mix i.e., 80% of your daily need for fluids is met by liquids you consume while the balance 20% is sourced from foods you eat every day.
If you are not feeling thirsty or if your urine is not dark, it means you are providing your body with ample amounts of fluids. A good supply of fluids will ensure your urine is almost colorless. Your dietitian can guide you with the right amounts of fluid intake. In general, you may be advised to drink fluids along with your meals and during exercises (i.e., before and after workouts). As a rule, go for a glass of water whenever you feel thirsty.
It is widely believed that those who are exposed to many hours of direct sunlight often develop signs of dehydration. But, in reality, other people may also be prone to losing excessive amounts of fluids. These include older people or elders, people living with a few chronic medical conditions, those living in higher altitudes, newly born babies, marathon or long distance runners, soccer sportsmen, cyclists, etc. Such people run greater risks of dehydration if they do not constantly maintain the fluid balance.
Sweating profusely can also trigger a marked loss of body fluids. With every droplet of sweat, a very small quantity of heat also gets discharged from your body. Hence, sweat is a way by which your body stays cool. But, if you do not refresh your body with ample amounts of fluids, the risks of dehydration may keep mounting up. Your body may also be subject to dehydration when the quantum of urine discharge is high. Such increases in the discharge of urine may occur when there is an imbalance of chemicals. If you do not replenish fluids, then your risks of getting dehydrated are very high.
Side effects of dehydration
Common side effects of dehydration include craving for sweetened foods, a persistent spell of thirst, fever, tremors or chills, cramping of muscles and bad breath. A moderate level of dehydration can show up in the form of a decreased output of urine, dryness of skin, difficulties to pass stool, feeling dizzy, headaches, dryness of mouth, weariness, etc. You may also notice a reduced output of tears.
In case of a severe spell of dehydration, the side effects may often include a persistent spell of thirst, hypotension (i.e., drop in blood pressure levels), faster rate of breathing, discoloration of urine, sunken eye sockets, shrinking of skin, faster or erratic heartbeats, inability to produce sweat, etc. Your urinary tract as well as digestive system is more likely to be affected by frequent episodes of dehydration. In case of an acute spell of dehydration, the effects can include chest pain, pain while urinating, fast pulse rate, being in a confused state of mind, vomiting, convulsions, fainting or passing out.
You need to remember that the above side effects and reactions do not represent a complete list. It is quite likely that you may develop other reactions and side effects, triggered by an excessive loss of fluids. Your genetic makeup plays an important role in the type of side effects dehydration can trigger. Hence, no two persons may report the same type of side effects because of dehydration. Your age also plays an active role in the nature of side effects. Discomforts experienced by adults may not be the same as those noticed in infants and children. The most recommended remedy for dehydration is to drink prescribed quantity of fluids every day.
When to seek medical help?
You may need medical attention if your dehydration has led to side effects like persistent episodes of vomiting, diarrhea that lasts for more than a day, sudden loss of body weight, spells of weariness, pains experienced while urinating, etc. You may need to call 911 or an emergency helpline if you witness a high fever (more than 102.5 deg. Fahrenheit), being in a confused frame of mind, inability to pass urine for 10 hours or more, respiratory problems, pain in abdomen, convulsions along with chronic headaches.
Medical science categorises dehydration into three distinctive types, namely – mild, moderate and a severe level of dehydration. Treatment for a milder spell of dehydration (and to a greater extent, moderate dehydration) involves provision of liquids with salts (electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, etc.) as well as drinking sufficient amounts of water. The side effects triggered by mild and moderate dehydration are reversible with needful intake of fluids. If your dehydration level is acute, your doctor may recommend administration of fluids intravenously. You need to remember that some cases of moderate dehydration and most cases of severe dehydration can – at times – lead to fatal outcomes.
You can also attend to a spell of dehydration at home by taking sports-drinks which may help you to regain electrolytes lost. You need to remove excessive clothing to make your body to naturally cool down. You can also switch-on your air-conditioner to cool your body temperature. If you do not have access to an air-conditioner, you can move under fans. It is a good practice to place a wet towel on your body. It is highly recommended to suck-on popsicles made of sports-drinks or fruit juices. You can also consider drinking juices with the help of a straw; this works very well for those who have mouth ulcers or oral sores. As a last resort, you can also suck-on ice-chips.
Some people may try to place ice cubes or use cold packs on their body. This is not recommended as an excessively cold treatment of skin may cause damage to the vessels carrying blood, especially those underneath the skin. Some people may also develop tremors (shakes or shivers) if exposed to very cold packs. These shakes or tremors can only worsen your dehydration level by increasing your body’s temperature.
Treatment to manage side effects of dehydration
Your doctor at the emergency department will quickly assess the nature and extent of dehydration. If side effects include a marked drop in blood pressure or rapid heartbeats, IV-based treatment protocols are initiated. The results are continuously monitored. If your body temperature is at a high level or if you are in a confused frame of mind, your medical team may admit you to the hospital for further treatment.
On the other hand, moderate side effects may be treated with administration of fluids orally. If the discomforts cease to exist or have decreased sizably, your doctor may discharge you from the emergency room. Your family members or friends are informed about the items necessary to take care of the patient at home.
As mentioned above, infections, fever, etc. can cause a spell of dehydration. In case of infections-induced dehydration, your doctor may administer IV-antibiotics. Dehydration triggered by fever is treated with ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If you are experiencing nausea or vomiting, these drugs are offered as a suppository (inserted through your rectum); this is done to avoid throwing up or vomiting out the drugs.
Precautionary measures to avoid dehydration
If you have children or elderly people in your family make sure they drink ample amounts of water every day. It is a good practice to avoid working out or exercising directly under the sun. An ambience with higher heat-index – i.e., higher humidity and increased temperatures, can make you get dehydrated very soon. You may instead plan your workouts in the evenings or early in the morning. Carry a bottle of water or juices if you sweat a lot. Always ensure to replenish the body with liquids to ensure loss of fluids does not leave you dry. If you sweat profusely, you may consider carrying a hand-fan. You can also wear loose-fit garments and bright-colored clothing when you step out. More importantly, you need to avoid consuming alcohol when it is hot; intake of alcohol can numb your system to detect early signs or side effects of dehydration. In general, avoid staying outdoors for long if you have had prior episodes of dehydration.
Above all, you may be advised to take needful amounts of water. Your dietitian may also recommend intake of few types of foods which are high on electrolytes. Adequate consumption of water is estimated at 2.7 liters per day for women (aged between 20 to 30 years) while for men of similar age, 3.7 liters is considered as adequate per day. Never forget that taking needful fluids is the best way to avoid dehydration. If you are not able to gain access to juices or sports-drinks, you can always depend on water to manage likely risks of dehydration.