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Identifying & Preventing Dehydration

So far, it’s been an incredibly hot summer…temperatures in the upper 90s, even breaking 100 degrees, and a lot of humidity. During a time of such extreme heat, protect yourself from dehydration by drinking plenty of water. Hot and humid conditions are known to increase your body’s loss of fluids, and proper hydration will ensure that all of your body’s organs continue to function properly.

Daily Hydration
The average healthy person should drink about 1.5 to 2L (62 to 64 oz.) of fluids daily. An easy way to remember this is 8-8, or eight 8-oz. glasses of fluids daily. Water is always the best choice because it’s free of calories and inexpensive. However, other sources can contribute to your total daily fluid intake, such as tea, milk, diet soda and other low- or no-calorie drinks. During a summer heatwave, you should increase your fluid intake by about one and a half to two cups daily. Generally, you should be drinking enough water so that your urine is clear or pale yellow, not dark.

Signs & Symptoms of Dehydration
Dehydration occurs when the loss of bodily fluids, mostly water, exceeds intake. Your body loses fluids when you become overheated and also due to illnesses associated with excessive vomiting or diarrhea, or medications (i.e. diuretics) that increase fluid loss through urination. Signs and symptoms of dehydration can be minor to severe and include:

  • Dark urine
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fainting

When there is enough fluid loss to cause dehydration, it becomes difficult for the body to carry out normal functions such as urine production and the ability to concentrate. Dehydration can also affect your mood, causing irritability, and can make you feel tired.

Other Ways to Prevent Dehydration
In addition to increasing your fluid intake, limit outdoor activities during peak sun exposure (11 am to 3 pm), and wear a hat and cool reflective clothing if you plan to be in the sun for an extended period of time. Even without heat, activity level, medical conditions, pregnancy, breastfeeding and age can all affect your body’s ability to retain fluids, so drinking plenty of water is always key. Additionally, remember that children and older adults are often more sensitive to dehydration.

When to Seek Medical Attention
If an adult is delirious, experiencing confusion or fainting occurs, seek medical attention immediately. In a child or infant, extreme fussiness, sleepiness and decreased tears/urine production are all reasons to seek medical attention. Typically, a mild case of dehydration can be treated with oral rehydration (water, Gatorade, etc.), rest and moving the person to a cool area. In severe cases, intravenous hydration may be necessary.

More About Water
Learn more about the benefits of drinking water in this News & Observer article authored by WakeMed Cary Hospital clinical dietitian Parul Kharod.

Dr. Jennifer Phifer is a primary care physician with WakeMed Physician Practices – Knightdale Family Medicine. Call for an appointment: 919-266-6211.

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