- The symptoms of dehydration vary with severity, but they can range from headaches to heat stroke.
- The causes of dehydration include exercise, heat and vomiting or diarrhea.
- To treat and prevent dehydration, drink between 2.5 to 3.5 liters of water per day.
- Visit the Insider Health Reference Library for more advice.
Water plays a key role in almost every system in the body from temperature regulation to cushioning the joints.
Mild dehydration does not normally cause long-term health complications, but severe dehydration can lead to heat-related illnesses, such as insolation, which can be fatal.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of dehydration can help you treat your disease early and reduce your risk of serious illness complications, such as seizures and low blood pressure.
Here’s what you need to know about the signs of dehydration and how to treat it properly.
Signs of dehydration
How quickly symptoms of dehydration develop can depend on several factors, including the cause of your dehydration and your age, says Gabriel carpio, MD, a sports medicine doctor with Hoag Orthopedic Institute. Symptoms also vary according to severity.
Mild to moderate dehydration symptoms include:
Severe dehydration symptoms include:
- Fast breathing
- Fast heartbeat
- Fainting or unconsciousness
If you are experiencing any symptoms of severe dehydration, go to the nearest emergency room.
Dehydration symptoms are often different in children and adults, says Carpio. Children are not always able to communicate when they are thirsty, so the signs of dehydration may not be apparent to parents until they become more severe.
The symptoms of dehydration for people over 65 are similar to the symptoms seen in young adults, says Carpio. However, older adults experience a decrease in total body fluid, which means that less of your body mass is made up of water. This makes them more susceptible to dehydration.
Most cases of dehydration are acute, which means it is due to a sudden loss of fluids, such as excessive sweating due to exercise in the heat, says Carpio. Chronic dehydration refers to dehydration that develops over time and takes several days to be treated, depending on the cause.
For example, someone who takes a diuretic medication that causes frequent urination may be losing more fluids daily than they ingest, resulting in symptoms of dehydration over time.
“Dehydration can take a few days or more to fully develop or be identified, depending on the consistency of fluid intake and the extent of replacement,” says Carpio.
Signs of chronic dehydration are similar to signs of acute cases, says Carpio, but they can last longer.
Causes of dehydration
Not drinking enough water is a common cause of dehydration, says Carpio. Americans drink on average 39 ounces of water per day, or about 5 cups, which is below the recommended daily fluid intake 15.5 cups for men and 11.5 cups for women (this includes liquids from food).
Other causes include:
- Certain diseases, such as diarrhea or throwing up that cause fluid loss.
- Excessive sweat. The more vigorous the exercise or the hotter and more humid the climate, the more you will sweat, resulting in loss of fluids. If you do not refill the fluids until potable water you can get dehydrated.
- Increased urine, which can be caused by certain medications, such as diuretics. Undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes it can also cause frequent urination.
The treatment for any type of dehydration, whether mild or severe, is fluid replacement, says Veronica Contreras, MD, family medicine physician in AltaMed Health Services. How this is done depends on individual factors, including the severity of your dehydration and your age.
Mild dehydration can usually be treated by replacing fluids orally with small sips of water throughout the day. Suck ice cubes or sip a sports drink with electrolytes it can also help replenish fluids, says Contreras. In more severe cases, you may need to intravenous (IV) therapy at the hospital.
For kids, oral replacement therapy (ORT), or drinking water gradually, is the preferred method for treating mild to moderate dehydration because it is less invasive and expensive, says Contreras.
The 2004 Review compared oral rehydration with IV therapy for children with dehydration caused by stomach flu. He found that oral rehydration was as effective as intravenous treatment.
Treatment for severe dehydration in elderly adults may require IV treatment, but probably in smaller doses than for younger adults, says Carpio. From others to look for suggests that oral replacement therapy may also be a more effective and safer treatment than IV therapy for older adults, but more research is needed.
Dehydration can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, but early treatment of dehydration can decrease the risk of complications.
Signs of mild dehydration include increased thirst, dry mouth and dry skin. The most serious symptoms of dehydration include confusion, dizziness and loss of consciousness.
Treatment for dehydration includes replacing lost fluids, increasing fluid intake at home, or receiving intravenous therapy at the hospital in more severe cases. You can also prevent dehydration by drinking an adequate amount of water daily.