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Dehydration & Rehydration - Symptoms & Recommendations

Updated on March 8, 2011

Are You Dehydrated?

Dehydration may not seem like a pressing issue, but the fact is, the average person spends most of their lives in at least a partial state of dehydration, leading to symptoms that are easily enough avoided simply by giving your body the fluids it needs.

You know that severe dehydration can be fatal, and since you are not at risk for such drastic effects, you think you are not affected. But did you know, many of your everyday physical complaints could be due to dehydration?

Mild dehydration can be the cause of:

  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • dry mouth
  • low blood pressure
  • dizziness
  • constipation
  • dry skin
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid heart rate
  • hot flashes

If you suffer from any of these conditions, the proper rehydration of your body may eliminate or ease the problem. If you do not already, drinking enough water is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid having the above (and other) health issues.

You may have heard that by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. This statement is a little bit drastic, but holds some truth. Your body has many built-in safety nets to ensure that you take care of it properly, and one of these is thirst. When you feel thirsty, it is a direct message from your body, telling you that you are running low, and it's time to look for an opportunity to fill ‘er up, so to speak. You may not be in danger of keeling over, but it is easy enough to pass from the beginning stages to a more severe dehydration.

How to (Re-)Hydrate

The average person living in a temperate climate loses more than 10 cups of water a day through urination, sweat, and respiration. The recommendation that every adult drink 8 cups of water a day dates back to a recommendation made by the Food & Nutrition Board in1945, and counts on people eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables with a high water content to make up the difference. A more recent (and accurate) prescription, made in 2005 by the Institute of the Medicine of the National Academy, recommends at least 9 eight-ounce glasses of fluid a day for the average woman, and upwards of 12 for men. Obviously, the more active your lifestyle, the more water you need to consume to stay hydrated.

Drinking water is not the only key to proper hydration. People of an older generation who lived in hotter climates, may remember taking salt pills in the summer time, but may not know exactly why. Salt helps keep the body hydrated and sustain the delicate balance of electrolytes essential to efficient functioning. However, when rehydrating the body, a sudden influx of salt is not beneficial, and sports drinks may not carry the right balance of electrolytes for the individual's needs. In extreme cases of dehydration, hospitalization and intravenous fluids are necessary to restore the delicate balance, but for the average person in a perpetual state of mild dehydration, drinking clear liquids and maintaining a balanced diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables is the safest (and easiest) course of action.

Signs of Success

How do you know when you're properly hydrated? Besides feeling more energetic and generally healthier, an easy gauge can be to keep track of the frequency and color of your urination. If you find yourself with a full bladder every 3-5 hours, and the urine you pass is only lightly or barely colored, you're in the clear! If you find yourself going 5 or more hours between bathroom breaks, or your urine is consistently a definite or dark yellow, you've got some more hydrating to do.

Note: For those concerned about "water poisoning," you have little to fear if you are eating regularly and space out your water intake over the entire day. The kidneys filter excess water within a large margin of safety, and assuming proper nutrition and adequate salt intake, the average person has nothing to fear.

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