by Kimberly Allen, RN
The average human body is made of approximately 75% water. This water is both in the cells as well as outside the cells. Maintaining the proper balance of water in your body is crucial to maintaining it’s function. There are many ways to upset that balance which can lead to serious health problems even death. Dehydration occurs when you are not taking in enough fluid to replace the fluid lost. Anyone can become dehydrated, though the very young, seniors, and those suffering from chronic diseases are considered to have a greater risk.
The human body is always changing as it functons through out the day and the balance of water in your body is a good example. Everyday you lose water from your body, when you breathe, the air you exhale contains water from your body. You can really notice it in cold weather when you exhale and you can “see your breath”. You also lose water as you prespire, when in cold weather, you don’t notice it. Also, you’ll lose water when you urinate or have a bowel movement. Believe it or not that can lead to a significant amount of fluid leaving your body that you need to replace. Then if you exercise for long periods of time or have a high intensity work out you are going to lose even more water and need to replace that as well. Should you become ill and have a fever, nausea and vomiting, etc. that all causes you to lose more water leading to dehydration.
There are several potentially serious complications that can develop if your body becomes dehydrated. The most well known and common are various heat injuries. These can be anywhere from mild heat cramps to a heat stroke which can be fatal. However, many people don’t think about becoming dehydrated in the cold. If you are a winter athlete or even someone that just enjoy’s doing things outside in the winter you can become dehydrated even in the cold. The difference is that instead of heat injuries you could suffer cold injuries like frost bite.
The water in your body contains the electrolytes sodium and potassium which are responsible for transmitting the electrical signals to the cells throughout the body. When you get dehydrated these electrolytes become unbalanced and the electrical signals get mixed up which can lead to seizures. One of the most serious and potentially life threatening complications that can develop if you become severely dehydrated is callled hypovolemic shock. This occurs when you have lost so much fluid that your blood volume is reduced causing your blood pressure to drop which in turn reduces the amount of oxygen in your body. When not treated in a timely manor and appropriately severe dehydration can lead to coma and even death.
There are several potential causes for dehydration. This time of year with the range of viruses in the air the most common cause of dehydration is severe vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Young children are particularly susceptible to dehydration associatted with a viral infection because they are either unable or unwilling to take in enough fluids to replace what they have lost. Should your child begin to complain of a dry mouth or if they are too young to communicate you will notice they don’t drool at all, or if the fontanell or “soft spot” on your baby’s head appears sunken or if your child/infant doesn’t urinate, for children/toddlers in 12 hours and for infants in 6-8 hours, you need to contact your Dr immediately or take your child
to the local emergency room.
Dehydration can be prevented by replacing the fluids your body loses. For those that lose mosre water because of their lifestyle or due to illness using sport drinks like gatorade or powerade help to also maintain your electrlyte balanceby replacing the electrolytes lost. There is also a product called pedialyte that is for children to replace fluids lost when ill, it is used in hospitals and is available in most stores. It’s also a good idea to watch that your child takes in enough fluids throughout the day to replace normal fluid loss.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.