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September 15th, 2009

Often times people underestimate the amount of water they will need on a hike, or do not drink until the signs of dehydration are setting in.  Lets look closer at dehydration and what we can do to better understand and avoid it.

The Causes of Dehydration

There are many things that can cause dehydration, the most common are vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss, malnutrition, and plain old failure to replenish liquids lost from sweating and urination (Not drinking enough water). Many illnesses and diseases can trigger acute dehydration due to the increased body temperature and sweating that usually occur. This is why your doctor tells you to drink plenty of fluids when you are ill. Your body uses fluids to expel toxins as well as to keep your system flexible, lubricated and running smoothly.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of dehydration usually begin with thirst and progress to more alarming manifestations as the need for water becomes more dire. The initial signs and symptoms of mild dehydration in adults appear when the body has lost about 2% of it’s total fluid. These mild dehydration symptoms are often (but not limited to):  Thirst, loss of appetite, dry skin, skin flushing, dark colored urine, dry mouth, fatigue or weakness, chills, head rushes.

If the dehydration is allowed to continue unabated, when the total fluid loss reaches 5% the following effects of dehydration are normally experienced:  Increased heart rate, increased respiration, decreased sweating, decreased urination, increased body temperature, extreme fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, tingling of limbs.

When the body reaches 10% fluid loss emergency help is needed IMMEDIATELY! 10% fluid loss and above is often fatal! Symptoms of severe dehydration include: Muscle spasms, racing pulse, vomiting, shriveled skin, dim vision, painful urination, confusion, difficulty breathing, seizures, chest / abdominal pain, unconsciousness.

Be aware that these are not the only symptoms of severe dehydration that may manifest in response to dehydration, these are simply the most common. Symptoms of dehydration will differ from person to person because the body is a complex network of systems and everyone’s body is different. When these systems are disturbed due to loss of fluids there will be several common symptoms shared by most bodies, but there may also be unusual or unexpected responses depending on the particular person in question. Age also plays a part in the manifestation of symptoms. Signs of dehydration in a child will not be the same as those experienced by a teenager, adult or in the elderly. Dehydration prevention is the best treatment for every age group.

Treatment for Dehydration

When a person becomes dehydrated they have also lost electrolytes so it is very important to replenish them along the water. The type of electrolytes needed for rehydration are sodium and potassium salts usually found in sports drinks like Gatorade and pediatric formulas like Pedialite. Electrolytes are needed for electro-chemical reactions within cells. A lack of electrolytes in the body can interfere with the chemical reactions needed for healthy cell operation and is known as water intoxication. This can become a serious condition and has lead to death in extreme cases.

If a person is showing minor symptoms give them plenty of water and let them drink it very slowly, in small sips. Electrolytes are also important to replace. Electrolytes can be readily had from Gatorade or Pedialite. They are also found in salty foods but eating any food while dehydrated will only dehydrate the body more since fluids are required for digestion. If Gatorade or Pedialite are not available, slowly replenish the bodies liquids with water and follow that up after symptoms have subsided with a small salty snack or a very light meal.

If a person is showing some of the more severe symptoms of dehydration as listed above, call an ambulance immediately. He or she may be past the point where ingestion of the proper fluids will help; get them medical attention immediately.

Prevention of Dehydration

The average person looses between two and three litres of water a day through the breath, sweat, and urine. This number can increase or decrease based on the types of activities that a person engages in. Heavy exercise can cause a body to loose more than 2 liters an hour. To prevent dehydration you simply need to replenish the liquids that are lost throughout the day. Many resources and sites will tell you to drink 8 glases of water a day, or give you a set number of litres to drink but the honest truth is that every BODY is different and only you will know how much your BODY needs.

Only YOU can know how much water YOU need to be at your best. Thats right, WATER. Not soda, not juice, not sugar-drinks. Pay attention to your fluid loss and take special care to replenish it as it is being lost. By the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated – you want to avoid becoming thirsty in the first place. Pay attention to the color of your urine, dark urine is usually an indicator that you are dehydrated. Drink more water.

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