Dehydration results from excessive loss or not enough replacement of fluids from the body.
To work properly, the body requires a certain amount of water and other elements, called electrolytes. Drinking and eating help to replace fluids and electrolytes that have been lost through the body's functions. Fluids are normally lost through sweat, urine, bowel movements, and breathing. If a lot of fluids are lost and not replaced, dehydration can occur.
Risk Factors ^
Dehydration is more common in children younger than 2 years and people aged 65 years or older, especially those with chronic illness.
Factors that may increase the risk of dehydration include:
- High fever
- Exposure to the heat and sun
- Excessive exercise, including athletic competitions
- Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- Medications, including diuretics and laxatives
- Reduced fluid intake due to certain conditions, such as movement problems, mental health or memory problems, and decreased ability to perceive thirst
- Fluid imbalance caused by certain conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, burns, and infection
Symptoms vary depending on the degree of dehydration. Symptoms may include:
- Dry mouth
- Limited tear production
- Decreased urination
- Concentrated urine—darker color, stronger odor
- Wrinkled skin or dry skin
- Parched, cracked lips
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fast breathing
- Weight loss
- In infants, sunken soft spot in the skull
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Dehydration can be extremely serious and life threatening. It may require immediate medical care.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
The doctor will test bodily fluids. This can be done with:
- Urine tests
- Blood tests
Therapy aims to rehydrate the body, replace lost electrolytes, and prevent complications. If there is an underlying condition, the doctor will treat that as well.
Treatment may include:
If there is minimal or moderate dehydration, the doctor may have fluids replaced fluids by mouth. The following may be needed:
- Drink small amounts of oral rehydration solution throughout the day. Continue to drink the oral rehydration solution.
- Adults may need additional plain water or salty liquids like broth, depending on their sodium level. Avoid beverages with alcohol and caffeine, carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, and gelatin.
- Increase the amount of liquid as tolerated.
IV fluids will be given to rapidly replace fluids in cases of severe dehydration.
The doctor may recommend the following medication:
- Anti-nausea and vomiting medications
- Antidiarrheal medication for severe diarrhea or abdominal cramping
- Antibiotics for severe diarrhea caused by a certain bacterial infections
If you are diagnosed with dehydration, follow your doctor's instructions.
To prevent dehydration:
- Drink plenty of fluids, even if you are busy or sick.
- Drink fluids regularly while exercising or when outdoors on a hot day. Stop frequently for fluid breaks.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Dehydration and hypovolemia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 5, 2015. Accessed February 15, 2016.
Dehydration and hypovolemia in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 2, 2016. Accessed February 15, 2016.
Rehydration therapy in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 2, 2016. Accessed February 15, 2016.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Michael Woods, MD