Dehydration: Causes, symptoms, and prevention measures

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in.

Published Mar 26, 2024


Dehydration is a significant concern, particularly during periods of extreme heat and disease outbreaks such as cholera, which can result in severe diarrhea and potentially life-threatening outcomes.

Anastasia Ugwuanyi, a family physician and clinical educator at the University of the Witwatersrand, shares invaluable insights to help navigate and prevent dehydration.

What causes dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in. This imbalance disrupts the body's normal functioning, leading to a range of symptoms.

Factors contributing to dehydration include excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, and inadequate fluid intake. During hot weather or illness, the risk of dehydration significantly increase.

What are the warning signs of dehydration?

Recognising the warning signs of dehydration is essential. Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of dehydration but commonly include increased thirst, dry mouth, dark urine, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion.

In severe cases, individuals may experience rapid heartbeat, sunken eyes, lack of sweat, and even unconsciousness. Monitoring these symptoms closely, especially during challenging circumstances like heatwaves or illness, can help prevent dehydration-related complications.

How can dehydration be prevented?

Preventing dehydration involves maintaining adequate fluid balance and recognising situations that increase the risk of fluid loss. Dr. Ugwuanyi emphasises the importance of staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially water.

Individuals should also be mindful of their fluid intake during physical activity, illness, or exposure to high temperatures. Consuming electrolyte-rich beverages or oral rehydration solutions can be particularly beneficial in replenishing lost fluids and essential minerals. Additionally, incorporating hydrating foods such as fruits and vegetables into the diet can contribute to overall hydration levels.

What steps can be taken to manage dehydration?

In cases of mild to moderate dehydration, prompt intervention can help restore fluid balance and prevent complications.

Dr. Ugwuanyi advises increasing fluid intake and opting for oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes and glucose. These solutions help replenish lost fluids and restore electrolyte balance more effectively than water alone. However, in severe cases of dehydration where oral intake is not feasible, medical attention may be necessary. Intravenous fluids administered by healthcare professionals can quickly rehydrate the body and prevent further complications.

Recognising the warning signs and taking proactive measures to prevent and manage dehydration are essential for maintaining overall health and well-being.

By staying hydrated, monitoring symptoms closely, and seeking medical attention when needed, individuals can effectively safeguard themselves against the potentially harmful effects of dehydration.

Source: The Conversation