What causes dehydration? 19 possible conditions

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What is Dehydration?

Dehydration takes place when your body loses more fluid than you drink. The most common cause of water loss from the body is excessive sweating.

The suggested amount of water to drink is eight to 10 glasses per day for an average, non-active person. Individuals on the go, athletes, and people exposed to high temperatures should increase their water intake to avoid dehydration.

When too much water is lost from the body, the organs, cells, and tissues fail to function as they should, which can lead to dangerous complications. If dehydration isn’t corrected immediately, it could cause shock. Dehydration can be mild or severe. Mild dehydration can usually be treated at home, whereas severe dehydration has to be treated in a hospital or emergency care setting.

Dehydration Risk Factors

Athletes exposed to direct sun aren’t the only ones at risk for dehydration. In fact, body builders and swimmers are among the athletes that most commonly develop the condition. This is because in these sports, drinking is discouraged during training sessions or before competitions, which can cause self-induced dehydration. And, strange as it may seem, it is possible to sweat in water. Swimmers lose a lot of sweat when swimming.

Some people are at a higher risk of developing dehydration than others, including:

  • workers exposed to excessive amounts of heat (for example, welders, landscapers, construction workers, and mechanics)
  • seniors
  • individuals with chronic illnesses
  • athletes (especially runners, cyclists, and soccer players)
  • infants and young children
  • people who reside in high altitudes

How Does Dehydration Develop?

Your body regularly loses water through sweating and urination. If the water is not replaced, you become dehydrated. Dehydration is caused by any situation or condition that causes the body to lose more water than usual.

Sweating

Sweating is part of your body’s natural cooling process. When you become hot, your sweat glands activate to release moisture from your body in an attempt to cool it off. The way this works is by evaporation. As a drop of sweat evaporates from your skin, it takes a small amount of heat with it. The more sweat you produce, the more evaporation there is, and the more you are cooled off. Sweating also hydrates your skin and maintains the balance of electrolytes in your body. The fluid you sweat is composed mainly of salt and water. Excessive sweating can cause dehydration since you lose a large amount of water. The technical term for excessive sweating is hyperhidrosis.

Illness

Illnesses that cause continuous vomiting or diarrhea can result in dehydration. This is because vomiting and diarrhea can cause too much water to be expelled from your body. Important electrolytes are also lost through these processes. Electrolytes are minerals used by the body to control the muscles, blood chemistry, and organ processes. These electrolytes are found in blood, urine, and other fluids in the body. Vomiting or diarrhea can impair these functions and cause severe complications such as stroke and coma.

Fever

If you have a fever, your body loses fluid through your skin’s surface in an attempt to lower your temperature. Often, fever can cause you to sweat so much that if you don’t drink to replenish, you could end up dehydrated.

Urination

Urination is the body’s normal way to release toxins from your body. Some conditions can cause chemical imbalances, which can increase your urine output. If you don’t replace the fluid lost through excessive urination, you run the risk of developing dehydration.

What Are the Symptoms of Dehydration?

The symptoms of dehydration differ depending on whether the condition is mild or severe. Symptoms of dehydration may begin to appear before total dehydration takes place.

Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include

  • sleepiness
  • dry mouth
  • increased thirst
  • decreased urination
  • less tear production
  • dry skin
  • constipation
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • headache
  • constipation

In addition to the symptoms of mild dehydration, severe dehydration is likely to cause the following:

  • excessive thirst
  • lack of sweat production
  • low blood pressure
  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing
  • fever
  • sunken eyes
  • shriveled skin
  • dark urine

Symptoms of severe dehydration are a real medical emergency and should be treated by a medical professional immediately.

Medical Emergency

Children and seniors should be treated immediately, even if they are experiencing symptoms of mild dehydration.

However, if a person in any age group develops the following symptoms, seek emergency care:

  • severe diarrhea
  • blood in the stool
  • diarrhea for three or more days
  • inability to keep fluids down
  • disorientation

How Is Dehydration Diagnosed?

Before beginning any tests, your doctor will go over any symptoms you have to rule out other conditions. After taking your medical history, the doctor will check your vital signs, including your heart rate and blood pressure. Low blood pressure and rapid heart rate will indicate dehydration.

A blood test may be used to check the level of electrolytes, which can help indicate fluid loss. A blood test may also be used to check your body’s level of creatinine. This helps the doctor determine how well your kidneys are functioning.

A urinalysis is an exam that uses a sample of urine to check for the presence of bacteria and electrolyte loss. The doctor can also check for dehydration by checking the color of your urine.

Strategies to Treat Dehydration

Treatments for dehydration include rehydrating methods, electrolyte replacement, and treating diarrhea or vomiting, if needed.

Rehydration

Rehydration methods include fluid replacement by drinking or IV. Drinking may not be possible for people suffering from diarrhea or vomiting, so fluids will be given intravenously. To do this, the doctor inserts a small IV tube in a vein in the arm. The solution provided through the IV is often a mix of water and electrolytes.

For those able to drink, the doctor will suggest drinking water along with an electrolyte-containing rehydration drink such as Gatorade (or a similar sports drink). Children with dehydration are often directed to drink Pedialyte.

Homemade Rehydration Solution

If Gatorade isn’t available, you can make your own rehydration solution using

  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 liter of water

Be absolutely certain that you are using an accurate measurement. Using too much salt or sugar can be dangerous.

Things to Avoid

Do not treat yourself by drinking soda, overly sweet drinks, or caffeine. These drinks can worsen dehydration.

Potential Complications of Untreated Dehydration

Untreated dehydration can lead to life-threatening complications such as

  • heat exhaustion
  • heat cramps
  • heatstroke
  • seizures (due to electrolyte loss)
  • low blood volume
  • kidney failure
  • coma

How Can I Prevent Dehydration?

If you’re ill, increase your fluid intake, especially if you are vomiting or having diarrhea constantly. If you cannot hold down liquids, consult your doctor.

If you’re going to exercise or play sports, drink 1 to 3 cups of water before beginning. At regular intervals during the workout, replace your fluids.

Dress cool in hot months and avoid being out in direct heat if you can avoid it.

Even if you aren’t active, drink the recommended amount of fluids.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Fever

The term fever describes a body temperature that is higher than normal. According to the Mayo Clinic, normal body temperature is typically 37 degrees C, or 98.6 degrees F, though this can vary. A short-term increase i...

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2

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a condition classified as the appearance of loose, watery stools and/or a frequent need to go to the bathroom. It generally lasts a few days and often disappears without any treatment. Diarrhea may b...

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3

Vomiting

Vomiting is a forceful discharge of stomach contents. Vomiting can be a one-time event linked to something that doesn't settle right in the stomach. Recurrent vomiting may be attributed to numerous underlying medica...

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4

Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is caused by a number of different viruses. Its symptoms usually last for two to three days.

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5

The Many Sides of Bacterial Gastroenteritis

Bacterial infections are common causes of gastrointestinal infections. This type of infection is also called "food poisoning" and is often caused by poor hygiene or ingesting foods contaminated with bacteria.

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6

Staphylococcus Aureus Food Poisoning

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacterium found in the nose and on the skin of about 25 percent of healthy people and animals. It is a common cause o...

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7

Diabetes Insipidus

Diabetes insipidus (DI) is a rare condition that occurs when your kidneys are not able to conserve water. It results in extreme thirst for water and frequent urination. There are several types of DI, and they can ofte...

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8

Amebiasis

Amebiasis is a parasitic infection, common in tropical countries and caused by contaminated water. Symptoms can be severe and usually start one to four weeks after exposure.

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9

Alcoholism

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol dependence. It occurs when you drink so much over time that your body becomes dependent on or addicted to alcohol. When this happens, alcohol use becomes the most important thing i...

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10

Burns

A burn is damage to the skin or body tissue from exposure to heat, ultra-violet light, radiation, hot liquid, steam, fire, flammable liquids or gases, chemicals, or electricity. Minor burns typically heal on their ow...

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11

Addisonian Crisis (Acute Adrenal Crisis)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

When we're stressed out, our adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps our bodies respond effectively to stress. It also plays a role in bone health, immune response, and the metabolism of food...

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12

Anorexia Nervosa

Almost everyone worries about gaining too much weight. But in some people the worry becomes obsessive, causing a condition called anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that can result in severe weigh...

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13

Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Cells need glucose (sugar) and insulin to function properly. Glucose comes from the food you eat, and the pancreas produces insulin. When you drink alcohol, your pancreas may stop producing insulin for a short time...

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14

Toxic Megacolon

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

The large intestine is the last section of your digestive tract and includes your appendix, colon, and rectum. The large intestine completes the digestion process by absorbing water and passing waste through to th...

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15

Intussusception

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Intussusception occurs when a portion of the intestine folds inside another part. This causes a blockage in the intestine. It is most common in young boys.

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16

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a recessive genetic disorder that can lead to serious complications or even put your life at risk. It may cause severe problems in the lungs, pancreas, liver, and intestine. It is an inherite...

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17

Colitis

Colitis is inflammation of the colon. Other parts of your intestines, which includes, the colon, may also be affected. If you have colitis, you will feel discomfort and pain in your abdomen. You symptoms maybe be mil...

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18

Hereditary Angioedema

Hereditary angioedema (HAE) is an inherited disease that causes repeated episodes of swelling. Angioedema means swelling beneath the surface of the skin. In HAE, the swelling and associated inflammation can be confine...

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19

Medullary Cystic Disease

Medullary cystic kidney disease (MCKD) is a rare condition in which small, fluid-filled sacs called cysts form in the center of the kidneys. These cysts scar the kidneys and cause them to malfunction. In order t...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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