One of the simplest, yet most important pieces of advice our private doctors at London Doctors Clinic constantly reiterate to patients is to stay hydrated. When you’re feeling under the weather, you might not feel up to eating and drinking much, but this can lead to dehydration, which will not only make you feel more miserable, but may hinder your recovery!
Today, we focus on what happens when you don’t drink enough fluid and become dehydrated.
Am I Dehydrated?
The average adult needs between 1.5 and 2 litres of fluids per day to function well. Dehydration is when we use or lose more fluid than we take in, leaving our bodies struggling to carry out all the processes that keep us feeling healthy and happy. If we don’t replace the lost fluid, dehydration will result. It can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the circumstances in which it occurs.
Many people are already dehydrated by the time they feel the common symptoms of having low bodily fluid, so it’s important to learn how we can keep ourselves well hydrated!
What Causes Dehydration?
There are many possible causes of dehydration, but here are some of the more common ones:
- Hot and humid weather
- Low oral intake of fluid
- Vomiting, diarrhoea or excessive urination
You are also more likely to be at risk of suffering dehydration if you are an older adult or a younger child, or have a chronic illness that leaves you less well able to cope with small losses of fluid.
Many times, thirst isn’t the most reliable indicator that someone is dehydrated. Often, people (especially elderly adults) don’t feel thirsty until they are already dehydrated, and very young children can’t tell us when they are feeling the effects of dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration differ between age groups:
Dehydration in an Infant or Child:
- Lack of wet nappies
- Dry mouth or tongue
- No tears when crying
- Decreased activity
- Sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of the head)
Dehydration in an Adult:
- Dry mouth or tongue
- Dark coloured urine
- Decreased ability to focus
A headache is a sign of dehydration in an adult
This list is not exhaustive and refers particularly to the symptoms you might experience if you are mildly dehydrated. There are other signs that tell us a person may be at risk of suffering from dehydration that is more severe, and you should consult your doctor if you or a loved one experiences the following symptoms of severe dehydration:
- Severe vomiting or diarrhoea for 24 hours or more
- Inability to keep down fluids
- Bloody or black stool
- Increased irritability, sleepiness, or decreased consciousness
There are lots of very simple things you can do to prevent dehydration, and many of these measures will not only reduce your risk of becoming dehydrated, but benefit your overall health as well!
8 Top Tips To Staying Hydrated:
1. Regularly sip plain water throughout the day. If you find it difficult to drink unflavoured water, it can easily be jazzed up by adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, or by adding some sugar free flavoured squash.
2. Teas, herbal teas and coffee’s also count towards your daily fluid intake, but beware of drinking more than several cups per day, as these drinks are caffeinated and can interfere with restful sleep.
3.Snack on foods with a naturally high water content – most fruits, vegetables and soups are great choices.
4. Avoid drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates your system, and if you drink regularly, there is a chance you may be dehydrated, so take it easy.
5. If you are ill, if the weather is warm, or if you are especially active, remember you may need to drink more.
6. Continue to hydrate yourself in cold weather – you may not be as active or as thirsty in winter, but you still need to drink sufficient fluids.
7. Pace yourself – your body may struggle to handle large volumes of fluids at one time, so it is preferable to sip regularly throughout the day rather than drink massive amounts of water at one time.
8.Use your urine as a guide to tell you if you are drinking enough – a reduction in the number of trips to the bathroom, or urine that is darker than the colour of straw can be an indication that dehydration is the problem.
Teas, herbal teas and coffee’s count towards your daily fluid intake!
By sticking to the tips above, you can almost always ensure that you stay well hydrated and reap the benefits of this healthy habit.
However, sometimes, such as in periods of illness, you may become dehydrated despite your best efforts.
In cases of mild dehydration, resting and drinking extra fluids for 24 hours is usually enough to make you feel better. A sugary drink or salty snack can help you to replace salts and sugars that have been lost when you become dehydrated. Oral rehydration sachets (usually powders which are added to water) are available from your local pharmacy, or can be prescribed by your Doctor.
In times of more severe dehydration, medical treatment may be required, and the type of treatment will depend on your age, the severity of the dehydration, and it’s cause.
Children and adults who are severely dehydrated are likely to be treated in a hospital accident and emergency department. Salts and fluids delivered through a vein (intravenously) are absorbed quickly, and should help you get back on track in no time.
If you suspect either yourself or a loved one is dehydrated, it’s best to seek the advice of a GP, who can assess whether there is any treatable cause of dehydration, give advice for symptom management, and assess whether further treatment (such as intravenous fluids) are required in a hospital setting. At London Doctors Clinic, our private GP’s are more than capable of advising in this situation – and with 12 private clinics located across central London, we should never be too far away when you need to find a GP.
If you’re acutely unwell with severe dehydration, however, it may be best to go straight to A&E for immediate treatment.
By Melissa Dillon