How to Avoid Dehydration

Dehydration is when your body is losing more fluids than it is taking in. Often heat related, its other names are "heat stress", "heat exhaustion," "heat cramps," and "heat stroke," but it can occur even in cold temperatures. It's a common problem, especially among young children, people exercising, and sick people. Thankfully, it's usually fairly preventable.


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    Prevent it by drinking lots of water daily! By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Thirst can signal a water loss of 1% of body weight. Light-headedness can occur with as little as a 2% water loss.
    • Water contains no calories and is great for your health in other ways. The amount of water you need is dependent on body weight. Hospitals use a formula to compute water intake needs, because even a patient in a coma needs water! For an adult weighing 150#, 8 oz. of water every hour for 8-10 hours is about right, in a temperate climate, with a sedentary lifestyle. That works out to about 1/2 gallon of water per day. On a hot day, that can increase by 16-32 oz. Add in strenuous exercise, and intake needs can rise by another quart or more, per hour.
    • To figure out how much water you need in a day, follow the "half rule" and drink half your body weight (although, in ounces, not pounds.) For example, somebody who weighs 140 lbs needs about 70 ounces of water in a day.
    • You lose water in many different ways: urine, sweat, feces, and even breathing! Even if you are sleeping, water is being consumed by your body's functions.
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    Dress for the weather to make sure that you're not sweating more than you need to. If it's a hot, humid day, wear lighter clothes. Dress like desert dwellers do: light weight and light colored clothing that covers your skin and breathes reflects and insulates you from the sun.
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    Water load when needed. If you're going to participate in a sport or a strenuous activity, then drink up before hand ("water loading"). Then drink at regular intervals (around 20 minutes or so) during the activity.
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    Keep an eye open for symptoms. The most common signs of dehydration are-
    • Thirst
    • Cracked lips, or a whitish deposit
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness, feeling faint
    • Dry, sticky mouth
    • Headache
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Producing less urine or darker urine
    • Stomach or leg cramping
    • Non-traumatic nosebleeds (minute cracks in the nasal tissue) which can be made more severe by blood-thinner medications
    • Feeling hot (Body temperature 99-102 degrees Farenheit)
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    Take breaks when you show signs of dehydration. If you experience any of the symptoms above, then rest for a while in a cool area and drink plenty of water. Remove clothing that constricts blood flow, or air circulation. Remove dark colored clothing that absorbs heat. Remove clothing that doesn't breathe, such as plastics, or tightly woven garments. If you are feeling nauseous, or have already vomited, begin with sips of water, and keep sipping, even if you vomit again. As you begin to tolerate water, change sips to mouthfuls. To replace lost electrolytes, add diluted, non-caffienated sports drinks, or an apple, orange and a banana. Give nothing by mouth to an unconscious, or barely conscious person.
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    Use wet towels or a water mist on the skin to aid in cooling. Water immersion, such as sitting in water, is OK as long as the body's core is not chilled, such as a brief dip in a pool.
    • Remember: it's not the water you get on you, but the water you get IN you that counts!
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    Avoid any intentional dehydration. Some exercise equipment, and some weight loss preparations, achieve their "results" by dehydration. These include the rubber belly bands that cause sweating, and the "colon cleansers" and "loose 10 pounds a week" formulas that cause water loss, and not much else. Athletes have been known to use them to make a lower weight class, since water weighs 8.3 lbs per gallon. Once weighed, they then drink to replace the water lost. This is not a good idea for most of us.
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    Realize that leg cramps while exercising, or following exercise, are an exception. The cramping is caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the muscle, with insufficiently fluid blood to remove it. Staying still only pools this blood in the legs, adding to the problem. A recovery process called "hot walking" is best. As you drink water, you walk, even if it's painful, and the steps are tiny, or even if you need the support of another person to start. You'll probably need 16-24 oz. of water, and about 5-10 minutes of walking to see results, and another 5-10 minutes for full recovery. You will be amazed at the results! Massage and stretching offer little benefit.
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    Combat the situation if you're sick. Dehydration can often occur with a stomach ailment. One loses lots of fluids through vomiting and diarrhea. So if you're sick, you may not feel like eating or drinking anything. But your best bet is to take tiny sips of room-temperature, clear liquids. Chicken broth (AKA "Jewish penicillin") is a great choice, and there is some science to support it. Sixteen ounces of water with a tablespoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of salt, replaces electrolytes as well (Pedialyte is a commercial version). Ice pops are a good choice, too. As you can tolerate it, a banana adds needed potassium.
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    Look out for diabetes-related dehydration. Diabetes is another illness that can dehydrate you. An overabundance of sugar (a "diabetic coma") will increase urination as your body attempts to decrease the glucose in your blood. If you urinate frequently, see your doctor, who can tell quickly if diabetes is present. "Adult diabetes" (Type 2 diabetes) often caused by obesity and poor eating habits, is one of the most frequent undiagnosed diseases, and with the rise of pediatric obesity is now being seen more frequently in children. Treatment is often achieved by weight loss and diet and exercise changes.
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    Treat heat stroke as an emergency. It is a severe change in mental status or unconsciousness, or body temperature above 102 degrees Farenheit, is a medical emergency! Call 911 (ambulance or fire support). Immediately cool the person off using whatever methods are available: shade, wet towels, a mister, fans, or a cool water bath (below the neck). Protect the airway, and ensure breathing. If you have ice packs, place them under the neck, in the armpits, and in the groin area. Once cooling has been achieved, remove it so that the core temperature stays above 96 degrees Farenheit. Give nothing by mouth until the person is conscious. Even if the person seems to have fully recovered, have them seek medical attention.


  • Avoid alcoholic drinks: beer, wine, wine coolers, and liquor. That cold beer may taste good after exercise, but the alcohol in it serves as a diuretic, taking water out of you faster than you can replace it.
  • Avoid dark, constricting, or airflow restricting clothing. Avoid covering your skin with anything which prevents sweating. A patient seen at a first-aid station exhibiting dehydration wanted to prevent chafing while running. He didn't just use a dab of petroleum jelly over his nipples, and in the groin -- he covered his entire body with it! He may as well have wrapped himself in plastic! They used the better part of a quart bottle of rubbing alcohol to remove the oil so he could sweat again.
  • If you find it hard to drink that amount of plain water, you can try squeezing fresh lemon, lime or orange slices into your water, and even soup broth counts as a hydrating liquid. Fruit and vegetable juices and herbal teas can all count toward your daily fluid intake but avoid those with added sugar and/or caffeine. So called "sports drinks" and "energy boosters" should be examined carefully: many contain caffeine, sugar or salt. Gatorade, for example, should be diluted with equal water; one bottle makes two.
  • Avoid colas, coffee and black teas; they contain caffeine and tannic acid that serves as a diuretic, drawing water out of the bloodstream. A person who seemed dehydrated drank nothing but coffee and colas. Even though she had enough liquid, she was being dehydrated by the diuretic action of the caffeine, and showed all of the symptoms of classic dehydration. Note that heavy caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches and other symptoms; a slow weaning from it over a couple of weeks may be necessary. See your doctor as a precaution.
  • Have fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, and tomatoes that add to the water level in your body.
  • Drink more water on windier days, because the wind blows water away from your body. Ever notice your breath on a cold day? That mist of fog you see is the water you are losing through exhalation.
  • A good indicator of whether or not you are taking in enough fluids is your urine. Your urine should be clear enough to easily read through. You can find urine color charts on the internet. Print one out, and post it.
    • Another good way to measure - you should urinate at least three times daily. If it's less, then you should probably drink more liquids.
  • Limit your amount of salt intake everyday. Those salty fries may look good. But they will dehydrate your body faster. If your going to eat something salty, make sure to have some water on hand! Or just drink more water!
    • If you’re involved in a moderate to intense exercise or a sport event which lasts longer than one hour — especially if it’s in the heat — you need to drink a minimum of 10 ounces within the 15-minute period "before" the start of the exercise, plus the recommended amount, another 8 ounces every 15 minutes during the activity and at least 8 ounces after the exercise.
    • If your body becomes 2 percent dehydrated or more, you can become lethargic, mentally slow, and cranky. But drinking an appropriate amount of fluids not only hydrates your body and helps you beat the heat, but also cleanses your system and flushes out toxins… transports nutrients… lubricates joints… aids your digestive system… and helps escort waste products out of your body.


  • Most dehydration goes away by drinking fluids, but if you feel faint or dizzy for several hours, then you should probably see a doctor. If you begin with a common headache, and hydration doesn't cure it, feel free to treat it with medication, or seek medical attention. Fully 90% of the "headaches" I see are dehydration, cured with nothing more than water.
  • Loss of consciousness, or any severe alteration of mental status, or a rise in body temperature to 103 degrees Farenheit, is "heatstroke," a medical emergency. SEE the protocol above!
  • Do not drink any alcoholic beverage to try to hydrate yourself. It doesn't help and can make you even more dehydrated.
    • It is possible to drink too much water! A condition called "hyper-hydration" is when there is so much fluid in the blood that electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are too diluted to allow proper heart function. It's hard to do, but it has been known to happen. It is sometimes seen in athletes, but most often in older adults who overestimate their need for water. Hyper-hydration is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY.

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Categories: Urinary Health