It’s sneaky, insidious, discomforting, and sometimes dangerous. It can be chronic and it can be acute. It will make your life uncomfortable, or, when left alone, cause severe medical complications and even death.
Dehydration, caused when you’re losing more water than what you’re taking in, is preventable and easily managed, but never to be taken lightly.
In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, it was estimated that half of all US children, aged 6 to 19 years, are not properly hydrated. The percentage is thought to be even higher for adults, some saying up to 75% of Americans suffer chronic dehydration, but this statistic – often quoted – has been difficult to verify.
How Do I Know I’m Dehydrated?
Fair question! And like most threat assessments there are subtle to blatant signs you need to learn to recognize. The earlier you catch them, the better off you’ll be. Prevention is always your best friend.
Early warning signs of dehydration:
- Dark urine
- Increased thirst
- Mild constipation
- Mild confusion, irritability
- Sensations similar to hunger pangs
- Dry lips (often masked by lip gloss and lip balms) and dry mouth
Just in case you miss these warnings, your body will turn up the volume and start shouting at you. Here are more blatant signs of dehydration (don’t let it go this far!):
- Dry skin
- Greater confusion
- Heart palpitations
- Severe constipation
- Decreased urination
- Lightheadedness, Dizziness
- Inability to sweat or produce tears when crying
What Causes Dehydration?
Some of the more common, and obvious, causes of dehydration include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, running a fever, and increased urination caused by medications, like diuretics and blood pressure meds, for example, and diabetes that hasn’t been diagnosed yet or not controlled through diet or medications.
But these aren’t the only reasons! Many people suffer mild dehydration every day for NOT so obvious reasons, like
- Living in dry climates
- Too much heat and sun
- Skin infections or diseases
- Breathing through their mouth
- Winter activities (due to less humidity)
- The inability to access water due to limited mobility or availability
- Not drinking enough water (sodas, coffee, tea, fruit juices don’t count!)
- Foods (especially salty) and drinks (especially caffeinated) that act as diuretics
How to Avoid Dehydration
Most authorities recommend eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, which equals a half gallon. Some suggest drinking half your body weight in ounces daily, which for most of us works out to be more than 8 glasses.
If you’re physically active or it’s particularly dry and hot where you live, then you should drink more than 8 glasses. Even if you are sick, vomiting or have diarrhea, you need to make sure you’re getting enough water by sipping it or letting an ice cube melt in your mouth.
For mild to moderate dehydration, correcting the cause, like moving from the heat to an air conditioned space, and drinking some water may be all you need. If symptoms are severe, then seeking medical attention may be important and could save yours or someone else’s life.
I’ll drink to that! Pass the water, please.
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