Dehydration is the lose of more fluid than you take in. It makes it hard or even impossible for your body to work as it should. Drinking fluids can help mild dehydration. Severe dehydration needs immediate medical care.
To work properly, the body requires a certain amount of fluid and other elements, called electrolytes. Water is lost through normal body function like sweat, urine, bowel movements, and breathing. Drinking and eating helps to replace these fluids and electrolytes. Dehydration can occur if there is excess loss of fluids, poor intake of fluids, or a combination of both.
Severe diarrhea and vomiting is the most common cause of dehydration in young children. Older adults have a lower amount of water in their bodies. Medical conditions or medicine can further lower fluids in their bodies.
Dehydration is more common in young children and older adults.
Other factors that may increase the chances of dehydration:
- High fever
- Exposure to the heat and sun
- Excessive exercise or sweating such as during athletic games
- Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- Medications, including diuretics and laxatives
- Urinating more often
- 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 or no wet diapers for 3 or more hours
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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 past health. A physical exam will be done. Urine and blood tests may be done to look for cause of infection.
The goal of treatment is to replace the fluids in the body. A cause will also be treated if it is known.
Treatment may include:
Mild or moderate dehydration can be treated by taking in more fluids. This may be done through:
- Small amounts of oral rehydration solution throughout the day.
- Plain water or salty liquids like broth for adults.
Some drinks like alcohol and caffeinated drinks should be avoided. They can increase fluid loss.
IV fluids will be needed for severe dehydration. It will rapidly replace fluids.
Medicine may be given if vomiting or diarrhea are causing severe fluid loss.
To help reduce the chances of dehydration:
- Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids throughout the day.
- Drink in small sips throughout the day if you are sick.
- Drink fluids regularly while exercising or when outdoors on a hot day. Stop often 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.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T904582/Dehydration-and-hypovolemia-in-adults. Accessed January 26, 2021.
Dehydration and hypovolemia in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T904583/Dehydration-and-hypovolemia-in-infants-and-children. Accessed January 26, 2021.
Rehydration therapy in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900144/Rehydration-therapy-in-children. Accessed January 26, 2021.
Last reviewed November 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardNicole S. Meregian, PA Last Updated: 1/26/2021