Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you have taken in. When you get dehydrated, this means the water in your body has dropped below the level needed for normal body function. Small changes in water level often go unnoticed and do not cause problems, but losing larger amounts can cause you to feel sick.
Many people think that dehydration only occurs when doing strenuous exercise or spending a lot of time outdoors on hot day – this isn't true. It is easy, especially if you are drinking a lot of coffee or soda, to forget to drink hydrating drinks such as water or sports drinks. This can cause you to feel tired, dizzy, and generally unwell.
What causes dehydration?
Dehydration is often caused by gastrointestinal illness, such as vomiting and diarrhea. These illnesses can cause you to lose a lot of liquid very quickly, and make it difficult for your body to retain any liquids you take in.
Dieting can drain water reserves as well. Beware of diet plans or supplements, especially laxatives or diuretics. These types of medications cause you to lose excess fluids through your stool or urine.
In other words, you are losing "water weight" instead of fat. The results are quick, but they aren't really what you want. This type of weight loss will be gained back quickly and can negatively impact your health due to dehydration and depriving your body of essential nutrients.
It is rare to reach a high level of dehydration while playing sports or exercising because most athletes regularly replace the water they lose from sweating. For example, it's common for an athlete to re-hydrate between quarters or while sitting on the bench. However, if you don't replace the fluids you lose, you can become dehydrated.
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Signs of Dehydration
- Infrequent urination
- Urine that is a very dark color
- Chapped lips
- Dry mouth
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Mild dehydration can be treated by drinking fluids such as water or a sports drink. If you've been vomiting, try sucking ice chips or having a popsicle after you have stopped vomiting. (At first, ice may be easier to keep down than water.)
More severe dehydration may require intravenous fluids at the hospital. Generally speaking, you should head to the hospital if you are feeling confused, dizzy, light-headed, or lethargic.
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The easiest way to prevent dehydration is to drink fluids, especially on hot, dry, windy days. Water is generally the best choice, as it's not sugary or caffeinated. Use the tracking tool in your Young Adult WAY2GO! Dashboard to help you monitor your progress.
- Drink plenty of fluids every day (physicians recommend eight 8-ounce glasses of water).
- Drink extra water when exercising or participating in other physical activities.
- If you play outdoor sports, avoid extremely hot weather.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are also a good source of water.
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- Jen Hawkins, Public Health Education Intern
- Nicole Aguirre,
College Writer (Stanford ’12)
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Vomiting, South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control.
Vomiting & Diarrhea, Vaden Health Center Stanford.
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: July 28, 2013