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(Low Body Fluids)

In this condition factsheet:

Diagnosing Dehydration

Dehydration may be suspected in cases of persistent vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of fluid through the urine or the skin. Symptoms associated with severe dehydration include pale, cool, and clammy skin, a weak and rapid heartbeat, a shallow and hurried breathing pattern, and severely low blood pressure. Some people may also be anxious and restless and complain of thirst. Skin on the knees and elbows may be mottled.

Diagnosis of dehydration is usually based on symptoms and physical examination.

Treating and Preventing Dehydration

For mild dehydration, drinking plain water may be all you need. However, if both water and electrolyte losses have occurred, electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) should also be replaced. There are a number of flavoured commercial drinks or oral rehydration solutions that have been formulated to replace the electrolytes (salts) lost during vigorous exercise. These drinks can be used to prevent dehydration or to treat mild dehydration. Just drinking plenty of fluids and consuming a little additional salt during or after exercise will also work. If you have heart or kidney problems, consult your doctor about safely replacing fluids before exercising.

If dehydration becomes worse and if blood pressure drops enough to cause shock or the threat of shock, get immediate medical attention. In these severe cases, an intravenous solution containing sodium chloride is usually given. Intravenous fluids are given rapidly at first, then more slowly as dehydration improves.

The underlying cause of dehydration must always be treated. For example, if diarrhea is the cause, then medications to treat or stop the diarrhea may be necessary as well. Once the cause of dehydration has been treated, monitoring is necessary to ensure that the oral intake of fluids is sufficient to maintain hydration.

If a child has any symptoms of dehydration, a health care provider should be contacted immediately. Dehydration can often be prevented in children by using replacement solutions such as Pedialyte®.

In order to prevent dehydration, drink extra water or commercially available fluid replacements when you encounter potentially dehydrating conditions such as in hot, humid, or cold weather; high altitudes; or when you physically exert yourself. Caffeinated (tea and coffee) and alcoholic beverages should be avoided because they are dehydrating. It is recommended that people drink 2 to 3 litres (about 8 glasses) of fluid every day.


*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.




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