Dehydration occurs when the amount of water in the body falls below normal, which, in turn, disrupts the balance of sugars and salts (electrolytes) in the body. Many factors can lead to dehydration, including vomiting or diarrhea, bleeding, certain medications and a variety of diseases. Infants, young children and the elderly are particularly sensitive to the effects of dehydration and may become dehydrated rapidly. Left untreated, dehydration can result in shock and then death.
Increased heart rate
Darker yellow urine (indicating that it's more concentrated than normal)
Decreased amount of urine (including fewer wet diapers in a baby)
Dry or sticky feeling or appearance inside of the mouth
Lack of tears
Poor skin tone, or turgor (that is, when pinched, the skin remains tented, instead of relaxing flat again)
Sunken fontanel (the soft spot on a baby's head)
Weakness, severe lethargy
Pain in the chest and/or abdomen
Cold, clammy hands and feet
Blue mottling (blotching, streaking or spotting) of the skin of the hands and feet, or bluish cast to the fingernails and toenails
In children, the most common cause of dehydration is a viral or bacterial illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea, such as stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Vomiting or diarrhea may lead to significant loss of fluid that the child is unable to offset by drinking. If the child also has a fever, then more fluid will be lost through sweating and fast breathing, worsening the dehydration. While particularly common in children (who tend to have a number of bouts of stomach flu during childhood), this scenario can also strike adults.
You can also get dehydrated due to severe bleeding , bleeding ulcers, exercise in hot weather (which may cause severe sweating, see Heat Illness), burns and severe asthma attacks (fast breathing allows too much fluid to be exhaled). If you have a condition that allows fluid to leak out of your circulatory system and accumulate in different parts of the body, you may become dehydrated. Such conditions include bowel obstructions, peritonitis (inflammation of the lining of the abdomen), pancreatitis (see Pancreatic Problems), nephrotic syndrome (a kidney disease) and liver cirrhosis. Severe infections can also cause dehydration by allowing fluid to pool in over-expanded veins rather than return to the heart.
The kidneys are responsible for many of the tasks involved in regulating body fluids, and a variety of kidney conditions can result in dehydration. If you take certain medications, such as diuretics (which encourage your body to form and pass urine), you may be at greater risk for dehydration. Diabetes insipidus, Addison's disease and other diseases can also result in dehydration.
Mild dehydration can be treated by drinking fluids. Because dehydration means that fluids, sugar and salts have been lost, it is important that the fluids used in treatment contain all these substances in the proper amounts. For instance, items such as juices, sodas, broths, gelatin desserts and plain water don't contain the right concentrations of salts. There are a number of commercial rehydration products that have been carefully designed to replace fluids, sugar and salts. These are available in most grocery stores.
You can also make your own solution by adding one-half teaspoon of table salt and 8 teaspoons of sugar to a liter of water, and mixing thoroughly. This solution does not replace potassium and does not correct pH changes associated with dehydration. So this solution should be used only temporarily, until you can obtain a prepared rehydration solution.
If you are vomiting, you should try to drink at least a teaspoonful of rehydration solution every five minutes. If you have diarrhea, drink about one-half to one cup of liquid after each bowel movement.
More severe cases of dehydration should be treated in a doctor's office or an emergency room, where balanced fluids can be given through a needle in the vein (intravenously). If you are dehydrated due to bleeding or certain other medical conditions, you may need a blood transfusion or special intravenous medications.
If you have a condition that may lead to dehydration, begin replacing lost fluids even before you have the symptoms of dehydration. Also, everyone should drink plenty of fluids during work or exercise in hot weather.
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