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Understanding Dehydration: Symptoms, causes and treatments

Dr. Ajay KohliJun 23, 2024

Feeling thirsty is your body’s way of telling you that you are dehydrated and that you need more water. Conditions like vomiting and diarrhoea can cause fluid loss. This can be dangerous, and not restoring fluids in the body can have dangerous consequences, especially in children and the elderly. Thus, it’s crucial to know about Dehydration and take adequate measures to avoid it.




What is Dehydration? 

Dehydration simply means that you are losing more fluids than what you are taking in. Around two-thirds of the human body is made up of fluids. Water is essential for the optimal functioning of the body and is needed for the following.

  1. Forming blood which is needed for carrying oxygen to all parts of the body

  2. Proper digestion and excretion

  3. Lubrication of joints 

  4. Making hormones and neurotransmitters

  5. Making saliva 

  6. Regulating body temperature

  7. Maintaining optimal mineral and salt balance

Inadequate water levels will impact all these essential functions.

Signs and symptoms of Dehydration 

The signs and symptoms of Dehydration depend on the age.

Here are the signs in infants and children. 

  1. Dry mouth 

  2. No wet diapers for more than three hours

  3. Sunken eyes and cheeks

  4. Restless and irritable

Signs in adults 

  1. Less frequency of urination

  2. Excess thirst

  3. Dark yellow and strong-smelling urine

  4. Headache, dizziness, and confusion

  5. Fatigue and muscle cramps 

  6. Low blood pressure

  7. Dry skin

Types of Dehydration

Dehydration can be classified as mild, moderate, and severe. 

  1. Mild Dehydration: This can be reversed in 5 to 10 minutes by taking in adequate fluids and electrolytes.

  2. Moderate Dehydration: This condition requires intravenous fluids and is managed in a hospital or emergency room.

  3. Severe Dehydration: If a person experiences excessive Dehydration symptoms, they require immediate fluid resuscitation. 

What causes Dehydration?

You can become dehydrated if you experience the following.

  1. Vomiting

  2. Diarrhoea

  3. Too much sweating after exercise

  4. Fever 

  5. Conditions like pancreatitis, peritonitis, hyperthyroidism

  6. Blood loss due to injury or surgery

  7. Consumed fewer fluids

  8. Taken overdose of medications like diuretics 

  9. Consumed too much alcohol

Treatment for Dehydration 

The chief aim of Dehydration treatment is to restore lost fluids and electrolytes. Drinking sufficient water is the best way to restore fluids. 

  • In dehydrated infants, breastfeeding or formula feeding can help to restore fluid levels. 

  • For young children, Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) can also help to restore fluids and electrolyte levels. 

If you have diarrhoea, vomiting, or fever you should drink more water or other fluids like soups. Beverages like tea and soft drinks should be avoided as they can worsen Dehydration. 

Severely dehydrated children and adults must be immediately taken to the hospital. They require intravenous fluids and electrolytes to recover from Dehydration. 

Diagnosis of Dehydration 

The doctor would first ask about your symptoms, do a physical exam, and check your vitals. If your doctor suspects Dehydration, they may suggest one or more of the following tests.

  1. Blood test to check for sodium and potassium levels

  2. Blood tests to assess kidney function and other conditions that may cause Dehydration

  3. Urine tests to assess kidney function and urinary tract infection

How can I prevent Dehydration?

Drinking adequate water and eating fruits and vegetables rich in water is the key to preventing Dehydration. 

  • The recommended water consumption for women is around 2.2 litres or 8 glasses of water, and for men, it is 3 litres per day. 

  • You may need to drink more water if you are at risk of Dehydration. Always keep a water bottle when you exercise.

  • Drink water whenever you feel thirsty, even during meals. Keep a check on your urine colour, if it is dark yellow; it indicates that you are dehydrated. You must drink more water when you are ill because people tend to eat and drink less during illness. 

  • Avoid drinks like tea, coffee, alcohol and soda as they worsen Dehydration. 

Risk factors of Dehydration

Dehydration is a common condition. However, the following categories of people are more susceptible. 

  1. Infants and young children: They have low body weight, and even minor shifts in fluid levels can impact their health.

  2. Elderly: Older people are more prone to Dehydration, as they are more likely to have impaired kidney function, chronic illnesses like diabetes, and may take medications that affect fluid balance.

  3. Chronic illness: People who have illnesses like diabetes and kidney disease have an increased risk of Dehydration.

  4. People who do frequent heavy workouts: Working out leads to a lot of sweating. 

Complications of Dehydration 

Dehydration, if not corrected, can lead to the following serious complications.

  1. Hypovolemic shock: Serious depletion in body fluid levels can lead to reduced blood volume. This can lead to low blood pressure and reduced oxygen levels in the body.

  2. Heat illness: This occurs when the body is unable to cope with the heat. This is characterised by heat rashes, muscle cramps, tiredness, and fainting. 

  3. Seizures: Seizures may occur because of electrolyte imbalance that happens due to Dehydration. Sodium and potassium imbalance can affect electrical conduction in the nerves and muscles. This may cause involuntary muscle contraction and can also lead to loss of consciousness.

  4. Kidney problems: Dehydration can cause urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and kidney failure

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Dehydration.

What are the symptoms of severe Dehydration?


You must consult your doctor if you experience symptoms of heat stroke, which include the following.

  1. fever more than 1030F temperature 

  2. seizures 

  3. high pulse rate

  4. nausea

  5. lack of sweating 

  6. muscle cramps 

  7. altered mental state

How much time does it take for Dehydration to resolve?


Drinking fluids with electrolytes can help reverse the symptoms of Dehydration within 5 to 10 minutes.

When should I contact a doctor for Dehydration?


If you have had six or more episodes of loose motions or have vomited more than three times in a day, you must visit a doctor. If you experience symptoms of severe Dehydration, go to a doctor straight away.

What is hypernatremia, and how is it associated with Dehydration?


Hypernatremia refers to an increase in sodium levels in the blood. This is a common consequence of Dehydration. This can lead to circulatory and neurological damage.

Can we give sports drinks to kids to prevent Dehydration?


You can give sports drinks to kids but make sure that they are diluted well. The dilution should be 1:1 (mix one part of a sports drink with one part of water).







Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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