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Dehydration

Causes, Symptoms, Health Dangers And Treatment

Dehydration, characterized by the excessive loss of water from the body, is a serious condition which if not treated can have fatal health consequences, especially in infants, young children and elderly people. If swallowing is difficult due to extreme illness, or when people cannot respond to a sense of thirst because of age, illness of lack of consciousness, the resulting failure to replenish water loss will lead to rapid dehydration. A dehydrated condition is closely linked to disturbances in sodium or potassium levels (electrolytes that help regulate fluid levels), thus treatment of dehydration typically requires both the replacement of water lost from the body and the restoration of normal concentrations of electrolytes within the body fluid.

Causes of Dehydration

Dehydration is caused by water loss or by inadequate water intake. The commonest cause is failure to drink enough water, although severe perspiration is a significant cause in hot climates or bouts of hot weather. Fluid loss caused by episodes of diarrhea (especially in children and old people) can also cause rapid dehydration.

In addition, loss of sodium (salt) from the body typically leads to a loss of water. Therefore, abnormally low levels of salt in body fluids may cause a person to become dehydrated. Kidney (renal) failure and Addison’s disease (adrenal cortical insufficiency) are two conditions that may – if untreated – lead to sodium depletion and dehydration.

Symptoms and Health Consequences of Dehydration

The early signs and health effects of dehydration vary according to whether the patient is dehydrating due to water loss with some accompanying loss of sodium, or because of a loss of salt with some water loss.

Loss of Water

The main symptom of dehydration caused by water depletion is thirst, which can become extreme. Other typical symptoms include: reduced urination, as well as a slight increase in the amount of urea in the blood.

Loss of Salt Greater Than Loss of Water

Typical symptoms of dehydration caused by sodium depletion include: extreme lassitude, fainting when standing up, excessive urea in the blood, a decrease in the fluid content of the blood, and a fall in blood pressure. The dehydrated patient may also experience vomiting and cramps. Urination is not commonly affected to begin with, and thirst is usually absent.

Symptoms of Worsening Dehydration

As the patient becomes more dehydrated – irrespective of the cause – symptoms include:

  • weight loss (2-3 pounds per day),
  • dryness of the mouth,
  • decreased production of saliva,
  • impaired swallowing,
  • shrinkage of tissue,
  • dry/wrinkled skin,
  • headache,
  • raised pulse,
  • shrunken eyes,
  • and fever.

As dehydration and salt loss progresses, blood output from the heart decreases, while sweating may cease entirely. Body temperature then rises precipitously. If urination falls too low in response to the dehydrated condition of the body, the kidney becomes unable to excrete toxic waste products. The combined effect of high temperature, reduced blood output and kidney malfunction is irreversible shock and death. Typically this occurs in previously healthy adults after a water loss of about 12-15 liters (3-3.75 gallons), but may occur much more quickly in the very young or very old.

Treatment For Dehydration

As explained above, when you lose enough water to be seriously dehydrated, you also become deficient in electrolytes – the mineral compounds (like salt) needed to maintain a healthy fluid balance and regulate body temperature. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following dietary response to serious dehydration caused (eg) by diarrhea. It is designed as a fast replenishment of fluid and electolyte levels.

Anti-Dehydration Treatment Method

Take two glasses. Into the first, put 8 ounces of orange juice, a pinch of salt and half a teaspoon of sweetener such as honey or corn syrup. Into the second, put 8 ounces of bottled or distilled water, and one quarter teaspoon of baking soda. Sip from each glass in turn until they are empty.

Treatment of Dehydration In Children And Elderly

Where dehydration is rapid, or where it occurs in infants, young children or elderly patients, no time should be lost in treating the condition, which may require urgent medical attention.

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