Dehydration is the loss of fluid from the body resulting in increased serum sodium levels. Dehydration occurs when an individual’s body uses more fluid without replacement. Dehydration can occur in any age group.
Causes of Dehydration
Dehydration can be caused by various factors or disease conditions, which include:
- Hemorrhage (the loss of blood from blood vessels)
- Severe diarrhea (the passage of frequent loose, watery stool)
- Severe vomiting
- Severe burns
- Polyuria (excessive urination)
- Excessive diuretics (diuretics are substances that promotes increased urine production)
- Excessive sweating
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Extreme hot weather
Risk Factors of Dehydration
People at greater risk of been dehydrated include:
- Infants and children: They often can not tell when they are thirsty. Also, they most likely experience severe diarrhea and vomiting when sick which puts them at risk of dehydration.
- Older adults: As one age, the body’s ability to conserve water is reduced. Some factors like intake of certain medications or diseases such as diabetes may also compound this condition.
- People with chronic diseases: kidney diseases, lung infection, uncontrolled diabetes, etc., puts an individual at risk of dehydration.
- People who engage in rigorous exercises: Exercising when the weather is hot and humid puts an individual at risk of dehydration.
Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
- Dry mouth and tongue
- Acute weight loss
- Sunken eyes and cheeks
- Extreme thirst
- Dark-colored urine
- Less frequent urine
- Less tear production
- Rapid heart rate
- Postural hypotension (a low blood pressure level that occurs when standing up from sitting or lying down).
Diagnosis of Dehydration
Dehydration can be diagnosed based on the physical signs and symptoms presented at the clinic but there are other laboratory investigations that can also help to give a definite diagnosis of dehydration. They include:
- Blood Tests: This can show the levels of electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) in the blood. It can also check how well the kidneys are functioning.
- Urinalysis: Urine test can help show the degree of dehydration and also check for signs of bladder infection.
Management of Dehydration
Management of dehydration includes rehydration and treatment of diarrhea and vomiting.
- Rehydration: If fluid can be tolerated orally, adequate fluids is encouraged. Drinking an electrolyte-containing rehydration drink may be recommended. There are also different types of fluids that can be given intravenously to regain fluid loss. They include:
Isotonic Solution: There are solutions that have the same osmotic pressure with that of the extracellular fluid. E.g., 0.9% Normal saline
Hypotonic Solution: This has lower osmotic pressure than the extracellular fluid e.g., 0.45% Normal saline
Hypertonic Solution: These have higher osmotic pressure than extracellular fluid e.g., 10% Dextrose water
Orally, a homemade rehydration solution can be taken. An over-the-counter rehydration solution can be gotten from a nearby pharmacy or made at home. For a homemade rehydration solution, one will need half teaspoon of salt, six (6) teaspoons of sugar and one (1) liter of water, all mixed together.
- Treatment of diarrhea and vomiting: Medications such as Loperamide (Imodium), antiemetics such as Dramamine can be used in the treatment of diarrhea and vomiting.
Prevention of Dehydration
To prevent dehydration, the individual must consider the following:
- Ensure deliberate intake of adequate fluids.
- Eat foods high in water such as fruits and vegetables.
- For children experiencing diarrhea and vomiting, start giving extra water or oral rehydration solution (ORS) immediately.
- During and after exercise, stay hydrated by drinking water.
- During hot weather condition, drink extra water to help keep body temperature low and replace the fluid lost through sweat.
- Ensure adequate intake of water when sick.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, soda and caffeine.
Complications of Dehydration
Dehydration can lead to serious health problems, including:
- Hypovolemic (low blood volume) shock
- Renal failure