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What Causes Dehydration And How Do You Treat It?

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Dehydration: Causes And Treatments

You can get dehydrated if you don’t drink enough water; sweat excessively because of humidity, hot weather, fever, or strenuous exercise; have diarrhea or vomiting; have kidney disease, diabetes, or a hormone deficiency which increases urination; have too much alcohol, or are recovering from burns. Infants and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. You can treat dehydration by replenishing lost fluids and minerals – drink water, eat fresh fruit, and use an oral rehydration solution.

Water plays a critical role in many bodily functions like eliminating toxins, lubricating of joints, and helping digestion. Water loss can also upset the balance of minerals (salts and sugars) in your body, which can then impair its proper functioning. So, how much water do you need? Well, this can vary from individual to individual – factors like the weather and your level of physical activity can decide the amount of water you need. But, on average, an adult woman needs approximately 2.1 liters of water in a day while a man needs about 2.6 liters. You might need more if you’re on a high protein or high fiber diet, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.1 If this vital need for water is not met, you could face dehydration.

Thirst and darker colored urine are two early signs of dehydration. Other symptoms of dehydration include passing less urine; feeling nauseous, dizzy, or tired; getting muscle cramps and headaches; and having a dry mouth. If you start losing consciousness or feel confused, you could be dangerously dehydrated and might need immediate medical attention.

Let’s now take a look at some factors that could leave you dehydrated and how you can fight dehydration.

What Causes Dehydration?

You may get dehydrated:

  • If you don’t take in enough water
  • If you sweat excessively because of humidity, hot weather, fever, or strenuous exercise
  • If you have after severe diarrhea or vomiting;
  • If you have kidney disease, diabetes, or a hormone deficiency which increases the amount of urine you pass
  • If you take medications which increase urine output
  • If you have too much alcohol
  • If you’re recovering from burns2 3

Are You At Risk Of Dehydration?

Though anyone can get dehydrated some people are at higher risk:

  • Since infants and babies have a low body weight, losing even small amounts of fluid can make them dehydrated.
  • The thirst signaling mechanism in the elderly can be weak and they may not feel thirsty even when they’re becoming dehydrated.
  • People with conditions like alcoholism and diabetes are also vulnerable.4

How Do You Treat Dehydration?

To prevent dehydration, keep yourself hydrated with at least 1.5 liters of water a day – but never all at one once. Instead, keep drinking water and other fluids (soups, milk, fresh juice, lemon water) and also eat water-rich foods such as salads and fruits.5

But what if you are dehydrated? Treating dehydration essentially involves replenishing lost fluids and minerals. Here are some tips on what you can do.

Treating Dehydration In Adults

Rehydrate: You can rehydrate yourself by taking in fluids, including plain water, soups, fresh juice, and fresh coconut water. Also eat fresh fruit or salads.

Avoid coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks: It’s best to avoid carbonated drinks as well as coffee and teas as these are diuretics that can leach away water further.

Sip small quantities: If you’re vomiting, take in small amounts of fluids frequently rather than a large amount of water at one go.

Have a sweet drink or salty snack: This can help replace lost sugar and salt.

Use an ORS: An oral rehydration solution (ORS) can help rehydrate you. This solution will have a mixture of sodium and potassium salts as well as starch or glucose and will help balance your body fluids. ORS products are available over the counter and your doctor will be able to recommend one for you.

Making an ORS at home: At a pinch, you can make an ORS at home. It’s a simple recipe – stir in six level teaspoons of sugar and a half level teaspoon of salt into a liter of clean drinking water, preferably water that has been boiled and allowed to cool down.6 Make sure that you accurately measure the quantities of salt and sugar needed. Too much sugar can worsen diarrhea while too much salt can raise sodium in the blood to unhealthy or harmful levels.

Treating Dehydration In Children

Give an ORS, not just water: Young children shouldn’t be given only water when they’re dehydrated as it can dilute the level of minerals in their body. Instead, give them an ORS, too. Your doctor will be able to recommend one that’s suitable for your child.

Feed small quantities, more number of times: If your child is vomiting and finding it difficult to keep fluids down, try giving smaller amounts of fluids more frequently. Using a spoon or syringe will make it easier to feed fluids to a small child.

Try rice water or gruel: If your child has diarrhea, give them rice water, the starchy water that you get when you boil rice in water. A gruel with diluted cooked cereals is also a good option to stop them from losing too much fluid.7

Treating Dehydration In Babies

It’s a good idea to seek medical help if your baby gets dehydrated. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Rehydrate with breastmilk/formula and water: Make sure your baby gets plenty of fluids. Breastmilk is ideal for rehydration. If you give your baby formula don’t dilute it. Instead, give them extra water.

Give small quantities, more number of times: It’s generally better to give your baby smaller amounts of fluids more frequently as it’ll help them keep it in.

Avoid fruit juices: It’s best to avoid fruit juice, especially if your baby has vomiting or diarrhea as juice can worsen these conditions.

Use an ORS: Try feeding your baby ORS regularly (a few times an hour) in addition to their usual feed. This will help replace lost fluids, sugars, and salts.

The Ayurvedic Perspective On Dehydration

Ayurveda recommends modifying your diet during the summer months to stave off dehydration. It is considered best to have a diet that’s light and easily digestible with a greater proportion of liquid and cold foods.

Some drinks advised during this period are fresh sweet lime juice, coconut water, rice water, thandai (a drink containing almonds, musk melon seeds, and ground spices), and the juice of unripe mango.8

  • The ancient ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita also specifies some remedies for excessive thirst including:
  • A thin gruel prepared from a variety of rice known as shali.
  • A drink prepared from the flour of popped paddy and rain water with a dash of honey and sugar.
  • A drink prepared by boiling the roots of beneficial plants (shara-Pancha-Mula) in water and adding sugar. The plants used in this drink are sara (Saccharum arundinaceum), iksu (Saccharum officinarum), darbha (Demostachya bipinnata), kasa (Saccharum spontaneum) and shali (a variety of rice). This drink can be prepared in milk also instead of water.
  • Milk boiled with munjataka (Orchis latifolia Linn) or priyala (Buchanania lanzan) and sweetened with honey and sugar.9

Consult an ayurvedic practitioner who can help you source these ingredients and also guide you on dosage.

When Should You See A Doctor If You Are Dehydrated?

Do see a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve in spite of taking fluids. And remember, you need emergency medical attention if you show signs of severe dehydration. Look out for these signs:

  • You feel intensely thirsty.
  • You feel unusually lethargic or have a sense of confusion.
  • You have a rapid heartbeat.
  • You haven’t passed urine in eight hours.
  • You feel dizzy when you stand up and the dizziness doesn’t pass in a few seconds.

Your doctor may give you fluids through the nose, using a nasogastric tube, or a vein to help rehydrate you faster.10

It’s also a good idea to get medical attention if your baby has six or more instances of diarrhea or vomits three or more times within 24 hours. The same goes if you have diarrhea for more than 10 days or have been vomiting for more than two days.11 12

References   [ + ]

1. Water – a vital nutrientl-nutrient. Department of Health & Human Services.
2. Dehydration. Healthdirect.
3, 4. Water – a vital nutrient. Department of Health & Human Services.
5. The importance of staying hydrated. Harvard Health.
6, 7. Oral Rehydration Solutions: Made at Home. Rehydration Project.
8. Balkrishna, Acharya. A practical approach to the science of ayurveda: a comprehensive guide for healthy living. Lotus Press, 2015.
9. Samhita, Charaka. “Charaka Samhita.”. Varanasi, India: Chaukhamba Bharati Academy (2001): 66-9.
10. Dehydration – Treatment. National Health Service.
11. Dehydration – Symptoms. National Health Service.
12. Dehydration. NIDirect government services.