Sportsmith Blog

Dehydration The Sign and Symptoms

Considering the human body is made up roughly of 70% water, drinking fluids on an ongoing basis is necessary for maintaining bodily functions and preventing dehydration symptoms.  Reality is, most people do not drink enough water throughout the day.  Although the amount needed is dependent on body weight, general rule of thumb is to drink at least eight glasses of water daily.

Dehydration occurs when more water is lost from the body than is taken in.  Water is lost routinely each day through the processes of breathing, sweating, urination, and elimination. While water is found mostly in body cells, the rest is distributed in blood vessels and in spaces between the cells.

Water balance in the body is so critical and so well-regulated that if water is lost from blood vessels, this loss is automatically replaced by moving water from cells into blood vessels. Signs and symptoms of dehydration occur quickly if this loss of water is not replenished. The first recognizable sign is thirst; the body is getting dry and needs a drink of water.

Causes of Dehydration:

Sweat - People lose water through sweating; exercising intensely; or fever due to an infection.  A person can lose a pound of water just by taking a brisk walk on a hot day. It is important this loss be replaced as quickly as possible.

The Elderly - Older people are quite vulnerable during heat waves, as they tend to thirst more slowly and are less likely to recognize signs of dehydration. In the Chicago Heat Wave of 1995, approximately 600 people died in their homes from heat exposure.

Illness - When illness strikes and people are dealing with vomiting or diarrhea, a great deal of water is lost from the body.  It is difficult to hold down fluids with bouts of vomiting.  As for diarrhea, 4 million children die each year, worldwide, from effects of dehydration.

Diabetes - For people who are diabetic, when blood sugar levels are high, sugar tends to draw water, making its exit through the process of urination. Therefore, having diabetes often involves frequent thirst and frequent urination, making it easier to become dehydrated.

Extreme Fluid Loss - This can come about through conditions of cholera (from contaminated water/food), resulting in vomiting/diarrhea and consequent dehydration. Bulimia (purging) can cause dehydration, as well as the excessive use of diuretics (water pills), along with a low-salt diet.  Stomach flu lasting 36 hours can also cause extreme water loss.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration:

Initial signs of dehydration are thirst and a decreased output of urine.  At this stage, urine becomes more concentrated and is yellow in color.  In addition, a person can experience dry mouth; weakness or fatigue; dry skin or flushing; head rushes or chills.

A 5% fluid loss can result in symptoms of:

*Increased heart rate/respiration/body temperature

*Decreased sweating/urination

*Extreme fatigue/headache


*Muscle cramps or tingling in the limbs


A 10% fluid loss constitutes severe dehydration and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms associated with severe dehydration are:

*Pale, cool, clammy skin or shriveled skin

*Difficulty breathing, racing pulse

*Chest and abdominal pain, muscle spasms

*Low blood pressure, loss of valuable electrolytes

*Seizure, unconsciousness, organ failure, even death (the brain is most vulnerable to dehydration)


The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink consistently throughout the day (eight glasses minimum). An infant is considered well-hydrated if the diaper is wet at every change.

Avoid doing outdoor activities in high temperatures; hold events under shaded areas.  If you must work in a hot environment, hydrate frequently to replenish water loss.

When suffering from vomiting or diarrhea, change one's diet or use medications to control the degree of fluid loss. When recovering from such symptoms, clear fluids are usually recommended for the first 24 hours.  Then one should progress to what is called a BRAT diet, starting with bananas, then rice, apples and toast, in that order.  Add more foods when tolerated.

Imodium can be taken to control diarrhea; acetaminophen or ibuprofen to address fever.

Symptoms of dehydration can differ from person to person, as well as from differing ages.  Children lose more fluids through vomiting and diarrhea than adults, while the elderly are more prone to fluid loss than younger adults.



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  1. I agree that dehydration is a major problem that can be hard to solve. Dehydration has played a big part in my life as a runner. Because of this, I have founded Hydrate which is developing a wristband dehydration monitor. If you are interested in watching our progress check my website at:

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