While dehydration is a real threat during the warm summer months, it can also occur as a result of activity or illness. Failure to recognize and the symptoms of a sudden shift in the body’s water balance can lead to serious and irreversible damage to the body systems – especially brain, kidneys, and heart.

Dehydration is not just a result of inadequate water intake. Bladder or kidney infections, diarrhea, excessive sweating, loss of blood, diseases such as diabetes, as well as a side effect of prescribed medication like diuretics can also dehydrate the system. If a person has become less aware of the thirst response (which often happens as we age) dehydration can sneak up before you know it.

If dehydration is not identified and treated, the consequences to health are significant, including reduced or loss of consciousness, rapid but weak pulse, and lowered blood pressure. If rehydration is not started, the situation can become life-threatening.

Dehydration usually presents with a dry mouth, possibly with thickened saliva. If this does not prompt a person to begin increasing their fluid intake, other symptoms such as cramping, headache, general weakness, sleepiness, or problems with urination may occur. More serious dehydration symptoms include low blood pressure, severe cramping and muscle contractions, bloated stomach, rapid but weak pulse, breathing faster than normal, dry and wrinkled skin, and convulsions. Anyone experiencing dehydration should reach for a sports drink (like Gatorade, or a powdered mix like Ener-C) as these enable quick replenishment of water and electrolytes needed by the body. Severe dehydration requires medical attention and should be attended by a doctor without delay.

A good formula for how much water is needed every day is to take one-third of the person’s body weight in pounds and drink the equivalent number of ounces of water daily. For example, a 150-pound woman would need 50 ounces of water daily, or about six 8-ounce glasses of water.

“Oh, that’s way too much water – I’d spend all my time in the bathroom if I drank that much!” is a common response. However, studies have shown that drinking at least five 8-ounce glasses of water daily reduces the risk of fatal coronary heart disease among older adults. It improves balance and digestion.

“Well, I drink lots of tea / coffee / beer / wine / soda so I’m not going to get dehydrated!”  Beverages with sugar and/or alcohol are themselves dehydrating, and caffeine-rich tea or coffee are diuretics that cause the kidneys to excrete more water. They are no substitute for straight water and should be considered an “add-on” of one’s daily diet.

There is truth in the joke: “Don’t forget to drink water and get some sun. We are basically houseplants with complicated emotions.”

by Heather Jeal