Dehydration – The symptoms and what to do
Water is our primary and most important nutrient. Water is vital to both organ function and digestion. It makes up approximately two-thirds, up to 60% of a person's body weight, and it only takes a 1- to 2% drop in that percentage to cause dehydration.
Although there is no absolute definition, dehydration is typically defined as depletion in total body water content due to fluid losses, diminished fluid intake, or a combination of both.
Dehydration is the underlying cause of many common conditions including: constipation; falls; urinary tract infections; pressure ulcers; malnutrition; incontinence; and confusion. Dehydration can also lead to life-threatening conditions, such as acute kidney injury, cardiac disease and venous thromboembolism.
Depending on the ratio between sodium and water losses, dehydration can be classified as isotonic (equal loss in sodium and water – example: diarrhoea), hypertonic (excess loss of water compared to sodium – example: fever) or hypotonic (excess loss of sodium compared to water – example: overuse of diuretics) (EFSA 2010).
As there is no single diagnostic parameter, it is generally recommended to recognise a pattern consisting of several indicators indicative of dehydration
If you suspect that someone is dehydrated, seek immediate medical attention.
Signs of dehydration include:
• loss of appetite
• flushed skin
• dry mouth and swollen tongue,
• heart palpitations,
• confusion and dizziness
• dark-colored urine
Infants and children are more susceptible to dehydration than adults because their bodies are smaller and they have a higher turnover of water and electrolytes. The elderly as well as those with illnesses are also at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated.
Extreme weather periods such as the heat of the summer time also increase the risk of dehydration. Most people think that to suffer dehydration, you have to be exerting yourself, and that is not the case. Sweating and routine perspiration, even if a person is not engaged in strenuous activity, can lead to dehydration on a hot day. Let’s say you're outside by the pool, and not ingesting enough fluids, heat exhaustion by itself makes you lose a lot of fluids.
The key to prevent dehydration is to keep drinking plenty of fluids every day and drink more when the weather is hot and/or you are exercising.
make sure you drink the water even if you don't think you need it. Unfortunately, the drink most commonly consumed at outdoor events in the summer – beer -doesn't work. Actually, alcohol is a diuretic, in other words, it makes you loose fluids.
Eat water-rich fruits and vegetables. You can get some of the water from fresh produce such as watermelon lettuce, oranges and apples, for example.
Choose the right clothing. . Light-colored clothing reflects the heat during the summer months. Light-weight, loose clothing allows for better air circulation and helps sweat evaporate more quickly all year round. If you're exercising outside, be sure to dress in layers so you can pull off clothing that may be making you too warm later on.
In summary, the vast majority of cases of dehydration occurring, especially during the summer, could be avoided by using a little common sense.
CMO - Chief Medical Officer