I see more dehydrated patients than anything else, and even though dehydration is usually an auxiliary symptom of something more serious, the lack of hydration to the body is a very serious situation. Many people believe that athletes are the only people who need to worry about dehydration, but in reality, it should concern everyone.
Infants, young children and the elderly are those at the highest risk for dehydration because the turnover of fluids and electrolytes is the highest. If the loss of fluids becomes too severe, it is considered a life-threatening emergency.
Dehydration is caused in two ways: either the patient has not taken in enough fluids, or the patient has lost too many fluids that have not been replenished. Vomiting and diarrhea are the two most common causes of dehydration. People with diabetes are also at an increased risk because of excessive urination. The intake of fluids should be greater than the amount of fluids leaving the body, which means that individuals with vomiting or diarrhea should be taking in more fluids than normal.
When patients are sick with other illnesses, their risk for dehydration increases. Afflicted by sore throats, nausea, or stomachaches, patients don’t want to drink anything at all, which causes them to receive too little fluids. Combined with the possibility of vomiting or diarrhea, this becomes a dangerous issue.
Dehydration can also be caused by excessive sweating or fever.
The most common symptoms of dehydration are dry mouth, low urine output, darkly colored urine, an inability to produce tears, sunken eyes and decreased energy. In extreme cases, the patient will have low blood pressure, a rapidly beating heart, poor skin tugor (elasticity), delayed capillary refill (when you press the skin, it blanches and does not return to normal color immediately) and possibly shock. In the worst case scenario, the patient will entire into a comatose state because they are unable to sustain consciousness with no fluids in the body.
For mild cases of dehydration, it is usually advisable to drink frequent, small amounts of fluid until the symptoms pass. If a patient tries to drink too much at once, it may induce vomiting. Infants and children can be given fluids through a syringe or with a teaspoon, if possible. For adults, water is usually the fluid of choice, but for infants and young children, an electrolyte-rich solution is preferable.
It is commonly thought that sports drinks such as Gatorade and PowerAde are the most effective methods of rehydration, but since they contain large amounts of sugar, they are more likely to induce vomiting. It is better to find an electrolyte beverage at your local pharmacy than to start drinking a sports drink. If Gatorade or PowerAde are your only options, choose a clear or yellow flavor, which are easier on the stomach.
For severe cases of dehydration, hospitalization may be necessary for intravenous fluids to be administered. When treated promptly, dehydration has no lasting effects, though untreated dehydration can result in catatonia, seizures or even brain damage.
In order to prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids every day. If it is hot outside, or if you are engaging in strenuous activity or exercise, then you should increase your fluid intake. Ill patients should be sure to continually drink small amounts of fluids, even when vomiting or experiencing diarrhea. Even a few sips every fifteen minutes will help to guard against dehydration.
Avoid sodas, other sugary drinks, milk and coffee when dehydrated, because these fluids will only serve to increase the level of dehydration, or possibly induce vomiting.