Dehydration: Introduction, Classification and Causes

  • If a body loss an excessive amount of water than it requires for normal functioning, the condition is called dehydration.
  • Minimum daily requirement of water is about one litre which may vary with the age and activity of the individual.
  • The individual who remains active almost all the time require 2 to 3 litre of water intake daily.
  • Generally, dehydration results if the consumption of water is less than the quantity of fluid being lost from the body.

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Types of Dehydration

Dehydration is classified in different ways but basically is of three types:

a) Mild dehydration: if a body loss fluid which is about 5% of total body fluids, it is called mild dehydration. This dehydration is not so severe and can be treated by rehydration easily.

b) Moderate dehydration: if a body loss fluid which is about 10% of the total body fluids, it is called moderate dehydration. It is little more serious form of dehydration and treatment should be initiated immediately with rehydration.

c) Severe dehydration: if a body loss fluid which is about 15% of the total body fluids, it is called severe dehydration. It is severe form and requires emergency hospitalization and treatment which can be life-threatening.

Dehydration can also be classified on the basis of ratio between water loss and sodium loss. It is of three types:

  1. Isotonic dehydration: It is the balanced loss of water and sodium that may occur in conditions like diarrhoea and vomiting.
  2. Hypertonic dehydration: It is the form where there is loss of more water than sodium as in the case of fever
  3. Hypotonic dehydration: It is the form where there is loss of more sodium than water as in the case of excess use of diuretics.

Causes of Dehydration

There are several causes of dehydration. Some of the causes are:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders initiated severe diarrhea and vomiting
  • Renal disorders related excess urinary output
  • Excess loss of urine due to diseases like diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus and adrenal insufficiency
  • Insufficient intake of water
  • Physical activity for long time in hot environment without consuming water
  • Excess sweating leading to heat frustration (extreme loss of water, heat and energy)
  • Severe sweating and dehydration while spending longer periods on regular basis in the saunas
  • Use of laxatives or diuretics for losing weight quickly which is mostly common in athletes

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

A) Mild and Moderate dehydration shows following symptoms:

  1. Dryness of the mouth
  2. Excess thirst
  3. Decrease in sweating
  4. Decrease in urine formation
  5. Headache
  6. Dizziness
  7. Weakness
  8. Cramps in legs and arms

B) Severe dehydration shows following symptoms:

  1. Decease in blood volume
  2. Decrease in cardiac output
  3. Low blood pressure
  4. Hypovolemic cardiac shock
  5. Fainting

C) Very severe dehydration shows following symptoms:

  1. Damage of organs like brain, liver and kidneys
  2. Mental depression and confusion
  3. Renal failure
  4. Convulsions
  5. Coma

Dehydration in infants

Dehydration is more common in infants caused mainly due to bacterial and viral infection resulting in severe diarrhea and vomiting.  It is life threatening if the lost body fluids won’t get replaced on time when parents are unable to recognize the signs.

Ageing effects on dehydration

Elders are at higher risk of dehydration even though they look healthy because of increased fluid loss and decreased fluid intake. In some cases, severe dehydration condition may become fatal in old age if the amount of fluid could not be maintained properly on time.

Treatment of dehydration

Severity of dehydration determines the treatment of the situation. In case of mild dehydration, the best treatment method is drinking of water and stopping fluid loss. But in case of severe dehydration drinking of water alone is not sufficient as it cannot maintain the salt loss. So the effective treatment is attained by consumption of oral rehydration therapy.

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Oral rehydration therapy (ORT)

It is the treatment for dehydration in which an oral rehydration solution (ORS) is administered orally. ORS was formulated by WHO which contains anhydrous glucose, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and tri-sodium citrate. In Case of severe dehydration, proper treatment is the intravenous administration of necessary water and electrolytes.




Dehydration: Introduction, Classification and Causes