What Is Dehydration?
Dehydration is a lack of fluid in the body, mostly caused by poor fluid intake or losing it through normal body processes. Hydration status can also be affected by chronic illnesses such as uncontrolled diabetes; the environment, particularly in high humidity atmospheres; medication, including diuretics and laxatives; fever, vomiting, and diarrhea; older age, primarily related to a compromised thirst mechanism and decline in cognitive skills such as confusion and memory loss; and limited access to safe drinking water, including while camping and traveling.
Side Effects of Dehydration
Luckily, there are many ways to identify dehydration, including the milder indicators:
- Decreased urine output, with the little urine produced baring a more yellow color
- Increased thirst
- Energy loss, weakness, and dizziness
- Dry mouth, tongue, and skin
- Muscle cramps and joint aches
- Gastrointestinal disturbances, including constipation and nausea
- Mood changes, including irritability and increased anxiety
The effects of not drinking enough water can quickly worsen without proper fluid management, with the longer term consequences even being damaging to overall health. Severe dehydration consequences may include:
- Severely reduced to no urine output; the urine produced, if any, is dark in color and may bare a strong odor
- Weight loss and anorexia
- Low blood pressure and increased heart rate
- Heat injury, with potential to result to a life-threatening heatstroke
- Delirium and unconsciousness
According to Mayo Clinic, you should call your family doctor if you or a loved one has had diarrhea for 24 hours or more, displays irritability or disorientation, cannot keep fluids down, and has bloody or black stools.
How to Prevent Dehydration
First and foremost, fluid needs vary based on a person’s body size, activity level, and medical conditions, including heart failure and kidney disease. But as a general rule of thumb, the average adult is advised to consume at least eight, 8-ounce cups of water per day, while a Registered Dietitian can help determine individualized fluid needs. But aside from water, milk, juice, coffee and tea all contribute to fluid intake, though it is important to remain mindful of added sugars and other ingredients in drinks. These additional tips can also lessen the risk of dehydration:
- Drink a glass of water before mealtime, as doing so also lessens the risk of overeating.
- Encourage fluid intake at all meals and snacks.
- Whether in the car or at the office, keep water conveniently on hand to prompt its intake.
- Purchase and use a large water bottle and aim to fill it at least two to three times per day.
- Order water at restaurants. Not only are they free from calories, but tend to be free of charge!
- Amplify the flavor and nutrient profile with these 13 ways to make your water better.
- Drink a full cup when taking any medication or multivitamin.
- Especially if caring for a senior loved one, offer reminders and assistance of water intake.
- Consume foods high in water content, including cucumber, watermelon, soups, gelatins, puddings, popsicles, and smoothies.