All life, including human life, began in water. As our bodies were being developed in the womb, we were surrounded by water, known as amniotic fluid. Everyday we hear how important it is to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Maintaining a healthy level of hydration is important in order for the body to function in the manner that it was meant to.
What Is Dehydration?
Dehydration means that the body does not have the required amount of water it needs in order to function. Either a person is losing fluids in the body or is not consuming enough. Fluid can be lost from the body in many different ways. The most common causes are diarrhea and vomiting. Excessive urination and excessive sweating are also common ways that a person loses water. Dehydration can also be caused by drinking contaminated water or eating exotic foods that the body is not used to.
Infants and children are usually more vulnerable to dehydration than adults are because of the size of their bodies. Children are also more active than adults making them more likely to lose water and electrolytes.
Dehydration is classified in three different categories, mild, moderate, and severe. The level of dehydration in someone is established by determining how much water has been lost and whether the body is restoring it or not. Mild to moderate cases of dehydration can be treated and usually don’t get worse. Severe cases of dehydration however have been shown to be life threatening.
Why Do We Need Water?
Our bodies are made up of approximately 75% water and it is vital for many of the essential functions in our body. At the most basic level it maintains the structure of a cell, is used to produce energy in the body, and transports nutrients and other elements throughout the body. Water is necessary for the body to be able to flush toxins out of the body and to keep our immune systems healthy. It is also important in regulating and maintaining proper body temperature.
According to the British Dietetic Associating the average adult should consume at least 84 ounces of water per day. Of this, at least 60 ounces should come directly from beverages. This is equivalent to approximately 8-(8 ounce) glasses per day. Our bodies also obtain water from foods that we eat. Most of this water comes from foods such as fruits and raw vegetables. Water intake should also be adjusted according to the weather. It is much easier to become dehydrated when the weather is hot. It is important to consume more water during these times. The human body cannot survive without water for more than just a few days.
What are the Symptoms and Complications of Dehydration?
There are several signs and symptoms of dehydration that a person can begin to look for or become aware of if they are not feeling well. Some of these include:
-A decrease in urine output, which will become concentrated or darker in color.
-Increased thirst. Often a person will find their thirst unquenchable.
-Lightheadedness, an inability to concentrate, and confusion.
-Dry mouth and tongue.
-Tachycardia (increased heart rate that is not normal or caused by normal activities that would otherwise cause an increase in heart rate). Often this is accompanied by panting or fast breathing.
-Severe constipation. This can cause harder stools that are difficult to pass. Harder stools can also weaken the walls of the colon, causing the development of small pockets known as diverticuli. The colon’s job is to absorb water into our bodies, and if it does not have enough to absorb it will continue to absorb what is already there. By absorbing water that is not filtered, or fresh, it creates the problem of making the kidneys and liver work harder to re-filter this water.
How Is Dehydration Treated?
The best way to treat dehydration is to restore fluids that have been lost. Even when a person is not thirsty they should continue to drink plenty of water. It is also very important to restore salts, such as electrolytes, that have been lost as electrolytes play a vital role in the absorption of water in the body. Consuming drinks that are isotonic (powders to replace lost fluids) is very helpful in doing this. If dehydration becomes severe it will be necessary to seek medical treatment. Usually and intravenous line will be started to put fluids back into the body. With this a doctor will also monitor the intake and output of fluids.
Preventing dehydration is something that a person should always be aware of. Try to stay out of the mid-day sun, as this is the hottest time of day. Wearing a hat is a good way to prevent loss of fluids since the head tends to pick up the sun’s heat. Always drink plenty of fluids and replace any fluids that have been lost and be aware of salts that have been lost as well so that these can be restored to a normal balance.
Batmanghelidj, F. Water: For Health, for Healing, for Life: You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty! USA: Grand Central Publishing; First Printing Edition, 2003.
Batmanghelidj, F. Your Body’s Many Cries for Water. USA: Global Health Solutions, Inc.; Third Edition Edition, 2008.
Meyerowitz, Steve. Water: The Ultimate Cure: Discover Why Water Is the Most Important Ingredient in Your Diet and Find Out Which Water Is Right for You. Great Barrington, MA: Sproutman Publications; Illustrated Edition, 2000.
Wedro, Benjamin, MD, FAAEM. “Dehydration.” MedicineNet.com.
Updated September 2010. Web Accessed 09/28/10.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Dehydration Definition.” MayoClinic.com.
July 25, 2009. Web Accessed 09/28/10.