What is dehydration?
When your body loses more fluids than you consume, it no longer contains enough water to carry out its normal functions and dehydration starts to occur. Depending on the severity of the dehydration, it can be a very debilitating condition, causing a wide range of symptoms that can affect you both in the short term and in the long term. If you think you might be suffering from dehydration, it’s important to consult your GP so that they can advise how to best treat your symptoms. Severe dehydration should be treated immediately or it can have serious health consequences.
Physical signs of dehydration
The most recognisable symptom of dehydration is feeling an intense thirst. There are a number of other physical signs of dehydration, however, including:
- Urine being dark yellow and strong-smelling
- Frequently feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Dryness in the mouth, or around the lips and eyes
- Peeing less frequently (under 4 times a day)
Cognitive signs of dehydration
In addition to the numerous physical symptoms of dehydration, it can also have an adverse effect on cognitive performance. Mild dehydration, which generally occurs when about 2% of a person’s body weight is lost either through exercise or water deprivation, can lead to a deterioration in enthusiasm and concentration levels and an increase in fatigue and mood disturbance. It can also make completing cognitive tasks more difficult and have an adverse effect on working memory. The general effect of dehydration is that it makes people more lethargic, less focused and less aware of their surroundings.
Lasting effects of hydration
Depending on the severity of the dehydration, it can be a very debilitating condition. In the short term, it can cause constipation, fatigue and a lack of focus. In the long term, studies have shown that dehydration can lead to numerous unpleasant side effects that can have lasting consequences for your health. Research by Harvard Medical School suggests that heart palpitations can be linked to dehydration. Dehydration can also cause your eyes and cheeks to lose colour, and for the skin in those areas to weaken and become flaky. Urinary tract infections (UTI) are another dangerous side effect of dehydration, according to the NHS, as well as kidney damage, heatstroke and seizures.
When dehydration is particularly severe, it can cause a person to experience a hypovolemic shock. This is an emergency condition caused by severe blood or fluid loss that renders the heart incapable of pumping enough blood to your body’s organs, resulting in them malfunctioning. Hypovolemic shock requires immediate expert medical care or it can lead to brain damage – or even death.
Who is most at risk of dehydration?
Anyone is susceptible to dehydration, but it is particularly dangerous for young children and older adults. Dehydration in young children is most commonly caused by severe diarrhoea and vomiting, but can also be caused by a fever, excessive sweating or increased urination. Among older adults, a minor illness such as bladder infections, flu, and bronchitis can cause dehydration.
Dehydration is also a risk for athletes who expend large quantities of sweat on a daily basis. If the body isn’t replenished with sufficient fluids, dehydration may occur. If you see an athlete suffering from heat stroke, it’s likely to be as a result of dehydration.
To ensure your loved one doesn’t suffer from dehydration, consider live-in care or elderly care for peace of mind, as your expert carer will make sure you drink enough throughout the day and be on hand with other personal care services.
Page reviewed by Carole Kerton-Church, Regional Clinical Lead on November 23, 2021