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Dehydration: General Information and Prevention Tips

  • Published: 2014-05-12 (Revised/Updated 2018-01-02) : Thomas C. Weiss (
  • Synopsis: Information regarding prevention of dehydration by consuming enough water throughout the day.

Occurs when your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. Dehydration can be mild, moderate, or severe based on how much of the body's fluid is lost or not replenished. When it is severe, dehydration is a life-threatening emergency.

Main Document

Quote: "To prevent dehydration, medical experts recommend that people drink at least 6-8 glasses of water every single day."

Water is something that is essential to life. Water is the most important nutrient in our bodies, making up around 70% of our brain and muscle tissue. Only oxygen is desired by our bodies more than water.

Sadly, the majority of Canadians and Americans do not consume enough water each day to meet their bodies' most basic requirements, something that leaves them dehydrated. Dehydration itself is responsible for a number of common ailments experienced by almost everyone because of today's fast-paced and busy world, to include fatigue and headache. When a person breathes, they lose moisture to the air each time they exhale, as much as 2 cups every day.

In addition, a person's body loses water through evaporation from the surface of their skin even without demanding exercise. People also pass water through their urine. During the course of an average day, a healthy person may lose 8-10 cups of water. If a person exercises, the amount of water they lose increases considerably.

If people do not replenish the water they lose through natural processes, they set off a physiological reaction that may have serious health effects. What follows is the natural progression of dehydration and the effects it has on the human body.

Mild Dehydration

Due to the fact that a person's kidneys will start to conserve water, their urine will become concentrated and will become amber in color instead of the usual light-tinted yellow color. With mild dehydration a person's thirst may become extreme, and their face can become flushed. A person's skin can become dry, as well as their lips and mucous membranes. They may also experience constipation or bloating.

Moderate Dehydration

As a person become increasingly dehydrated, the symptoms they experience change and worsen in some ways. Not only will they experience fatigue, headache, and drowsiness - they may become impatient and very irritable. The person's skin can become, 'doughy,' and fail to bounce back when it is pinched. Their eyes can appear sunken and the person can experience up to a 30% decline in their physical labor capacity, as well as muscle cramping.

Worsening moderate dehydration finds people experiencing cold hands and feet, as well as difficulties with concentrating. A person may also experience:

Once a person has reached the stage of moderate dehydration, their risk of becoming severely dehydrated increases dramatically.

Severe Dehydration

Chart showing symptoms of severe dehydration
About This Image: Chart showing symptoms of severe dehydration
Severe dehydration brings with it a number of potentially severe symptoms. The symptoms may comprise medical emergencies in some instances and require prompt medical attention. The symptoms of severe dehydration can include the following:

To prevent dehydration, medical experts recommend that people drink at least 6-8 glasses of water every single day. Nutritionists suggest the best way to fight the heat and cold is to drink plenty of water.

Staying Cool in the Heat

To stay cool in the heat, add 2 glasses of water a day to your 8 glass minimum. Bear in mind that heavy perspiration due to physical activity may result in the loss of 12,14, or even as much as 16 glasses of water each day. As someone who lives in the high desert, I simply drink water all day long, even in the winter. A dry environment exacerbates the loss of water.

Drink before you get thirsty, because if you wait until you are thirsty you are already somewhat dehydrated. Thirst is not a reliable indicator of your hydration needs. Reduce your level of physical activity if it is very hot outside.

Watch out for infants, young children, and seniors. Along with being more susceptible to dehydration, they are also often times unable to express their thirst or to hydrate themselves. Women who are pregnant need to drink more water and accommodate the needs of their child and the fluid losses due to increased heat production and perspiration. Women who are lactating need to increase their water intake to replace fluid lost through nursing.

Do not count beverages that contain alcohol or caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine dehydrate your body and you need to compensate for them. Drink an extra glass of water for each cup of regular tea or coffee and for each glass of an alcohol-containing beverage you drink.

Hydration and Cold Weather

During the winter months, skiers do not always realize that drinking enough water will help them to perform and feel better. A study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine monitored skiers and compared a well-hydrated group that used back-mounted hydration packs with a group that did not have the same gear. The results showed how dehydration can affect a skier's day in dramatic ways.

The combination of dry air, high altitude and exercise may bring on effects of dehydration that range from frost bite to fatigue. While skiers are many times tempted to drink hot beverages or ones containing alcohol, these drinks merely add to the effects of dehydration. Do not rely on thirst as a guide. Instead, drink water steadily throughout the course of the day - at least a dozen 8 ounce glasses, or more if you are an aggressive skier or snowboarder.

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