What does it mean to be dehydrated?

Amazingly, your body is made up of 2/3 water! It’s essential for many processes in your body, from lubricating your eyes and joints, to aiding digestion, flushing waste and keeping skin supple and healthy.

But when the normal water content in your body is reduced, it upsets the delicate balance of minerals, which has a huge effect on how your body functions. Usually, your body re-absorbs fluid from your blood and other tissues if it needs, but by the time severe dehydration sets in, there’s no longer enough fluid to get blood to your organs. This sends you into shock, which can be life-threatening unless you get emergency medical treatment.

What Causes Dehydration?

Simply put, dehydration happens when you lose more fluid than you take in. Fluids are lost through sweat, vomiting, tears, urine or diarrhoea, and the severity of it depends on factors such as climate, levels of physical activity, and diet.
Conditions such as gastroenteritis and diabetes can also contribute to dehydration, and age is another important factor. Young children are often at high risk of dehydration, and can become dehydrated very quickly, as their bodies metabolise faster than adults.

What are the Symptoms of Dehydration?

Thirst is the first symptom of dehydration, and other symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Dry eyes, mouth and lips
  • Concentrated, dark yellow urine
  • Urinating less than 3 or 4 times a day

If mild dehydration isn’t treated, it can quickly lead to severe dehydration – which requires emergency medical treatment or it can be fatal. Symptoms of severe dehydration include:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Dry, wrinkled skin that sags slowly into position when pinched up
  • Sunken eyes
  • Low blood pressure
  • A weak or rapid heartbeat
  • Cool hands and feet
  • Seizures
  • Extreme fatigue, irritability or confusion
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What’s the best way to treat mild dehydration?

In adults: Drink plenty of fluids! Water, diluted fruit juice and oral rehydration solution are all good options, and salty snacks can also help to replace lost salts.

In babies and young children: Avoid giving them plain water as the main replacement fluid, as it can further dilute minerals in the body. Stick to oral rehydration solution or diluted fruit juice. If they’re struggling to hold down fluids due to vomiting or diarrhoea, give small amounts more often. It can also be easier to administer fluids to young children with a spoon or syringe.

How can I prevent dehydration?

Drink enough fluids throughout the day! Aim for 1.5 – 2 litres of water, diluted fruit juice and tea to help maintain a healthy balance.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, WebMD.com, NHS.uk