Home Your medical guide Dehydration – What we need to know – Part 1

Dehydration – What we need to know – Part 1

written by Vidya Sury October 29, 2010

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Dehydration – Quick Facts:

  • Dehydration occurs when there is a shortage of water in the body.
  • This can happen at any age, but is especially dangerous in infants and the elderly.
  • Dehydration can be the result of poor intake of fluids, excessive loss through strenuous activity, sweating, vomiting or diarrhoea, or loss of fluid through the kidneys.
  • The average person needs to consume 2,5 litres of liquid every day to remain hydrated.
  • Marked lethargy, dizziness, low blood pressure, dry mouth and chapped lips can all be signs of dehydration.
  • Severe dehydration can lead to organ failure and death.
  • Increasing oral intake of water or other liquids can generally restore normal hydration but in some cases intravenous rehydration may be necessary.
  • The replacement of lost electrolytes along with water is also of great importance.

What is dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when the body is depleted of water. In the adult man sixty-five percent of the body’s mass is made up of water. In obese men the percentage is closer to 55% and in women the respective figures are more or less 10% less than those for men.

Two thirds of the total body water is found within the cells and is called intracellular fluid, and a third is outside the cells (the extracellular fluid). A quarter of the latter is in the plasma (i.e. in the arteries, veins and capillaries) and the rest is found in between the cells (in other words outside the cells, but also outside the blood vessels). This is called the intercellular fluid. Essential bodily processes such as circulation of the blood, excretion by the kidneys and sweating, need to be maintained and this is not possible if there is a drastic loss of fluids. Cells will dry out and malfunction

Who is at risk for dehydration?

Young children and the elderly are at greater risk of dehydration, as loss of electrolytes occurs more rapidly in these two groups of people. Children’s bodies have a higher percentage of water than those of adults, their metabolic rates are higher and they are at greater risk of infections that cause vomiting and diarrhoea. They are also dependent on others to feed them and give them water.

Older people may have a decreased thirst sensation, their kidneys may not work as efficiently or they may have neurological conditions such as a stroke or Alzheimer’s disease, which can make it difficult for them to convey their needs to a caregiver. Incontinence problems may also lead elderly people to limit their intake of water. Sportspeople who partake in strenuous sporting activities are also at risk of dehydration, particularly in very hot conditions.

Continued tomorrow …in Part 2

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Stay healthy!
Vidya Sury

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