Dehydration is simply a lack of enough water and electrolytes. Electrolytes are salts that the body uses in major cellular activity, especially within the muscles cells and blood cells. Because 70% of our body weight is made up of water, dehydration can have serious repercussions on a person's health. If remedial measures are not followed, life-threatening situations can arise in some cases. Dehydration occurs when the output of water is more as compared to the input. The loss of water can happen, while breathing, sweating, or urinating. So that the loss of water is replaced, it is important that sufficient quantity of water is consumed all through the day.

Contributing Factors

Dehydration symptoms are caused by several things. Dehydration can occur during hot weather, especially if one is not drinking enough water. Loss of fluids could also occur due to over-exercising, which may overheat the body. Digestive problems could also make one susceptible to dehydration. For instance, vomiting that occurs due to flu, food poisoning, over-eating, etc., could lead to loss of fluids from the body. There are chances that the person may not be able to tolerate liquids, which are necessary to replace the water loss from the body. At such times, medical intervention may be necessary.

Other than vomiting, diarrhea is among the common causes of dehydration. Like vomiting, it can also be caused due to particular food item not agreeing with the system. It can also be caused either due to consuming contaminated food or drinking water that is contaminated. With every visit to the washroom, it is necessary that the lost fluids in the body are replenished.

Exercising is another cause of dehydration. Any sport or exercise that causes one to sweat can cause dehydration. Along with working out, the hot weather and wrong kind of clothing can cause further dehydration.

In addition, drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration; this is often the case with alcoholics. A main cause of dehydration in the elderly is due to some of the prescriptions they sometimes need to take. Care needs to be taken to make sure that this is prevented.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms in adults and teenagers are: dizziness, dark urine (orange-yellow colored and with especially strong odor), dry mouth, weakness, inability to urinate, nausea, and vomiting. Pitting edema is another symptom that might be observed, especially in old people affected by dehydration. In case of people affected by pitting edema, swelling is observed due to fluid retention in the body tissues. When pressure is applied to the swollen area, it leaves a dent in the skin that stays for some time, even after the pressure is released.

Dehydration symptoms are usually easy to determine. These include dry and sticky mouth, weakness, dry skin when it usually is oily (of course some people normally have dry skin), low blood pressure, headaches, dizziness, etc. Decreased rate of urination, constipation, extreme thirst, lack of sweat and fever are also some of the other symptoms of dehydration. A number of times, cramps in the muscles could be due to dehydration. Heart palpitations need not necessarily always point to heart problems, they can also be due to scarcity of water and electrolytes in the body. Similarly, weakness also points to decreased levels of water and electrolytes.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in children and infants are very important to recognize, because they aren't always old enough to be able to tell you how they are feeling. Crying without tears, at least three hours without wet diapers, dry mouth and tongue, general fatigue or irritability, high fever, pitting edema, sunken eyes, abdomen, or cheeks, etc., may indicate dehydration in children.

Treatment Options

Prevention is better than cure. Hence, measures should be taken to maintain the levels of water and electrolytes in the body. Drinking small sips of water at regular intervals helps in preventing dehydration. Electrolyte drinks prove to be of help in preventing, as well as treating dehydration. There are sports drinks, such as Gatorade, that should be made available before, during, and after sporting events. Most of these can also be used during illness to prevent dehydration. In case a person is suffering from diarrhea and/or vomiting, he can be given a concoction made by mixing half teaspoon of water, one teaspoon of sugar and water at regular intervals. It will help in preventing dehydration and also prove to be of help in case of dehydration.

The best thing to do at this point is to seek emergency medical help or get them to a doctor as fast as possible. In some cases, rehydration can only be done by IV fluids and electrolytes. However, there is a recipe that was created by the WHO (World Health Organization) in the 1960s that can be given to prevent dehydration. This recipe can also be provided to those who are very ill and affected by frequent bouts of vomiting and/or diarrhea. The recipe can be altered according to ones taste. All the ingredients mentioned below have to be combined together to make the concoction.
  1. Table Salt - ¾ teaspoon
  2. Baking Powder - 1 teaspoon
  3. Sugar - 4 tablespoons
  4. Orange juice - 1 cup
  5. Water - 1 quart/liter
In addition to ORS, there are many grocery stores in the US, that provide special drinks for infants and very small children affected by diarrhea and vomiting to prevent dehydration. However, most of these brands differ in concentration and ingredients, which is why, a doctor should be referred to in order to select the correct brand.

Dehydration is a preventable condition, which can prove to be fatal in extreme situations. Care must be taken to prevent this at all times including during sporting activities and during illness. Special care must be taken to ensure that the elderly and young children do not get dehydrated.