The ABCs of H2O: What to Know About Dehydration

Health & Wellness

November 29, 2018

Commentary by Ryan Alexander, DO, IU Health Physicians Primary Care – Epler Parke

While water is a basic human need, many people underestimate the importance of proper fluid replenishment.

Good hydration is essential for every organ, cell and body system to function normally, and even though thirst is our body’s way of signaling it needs water, most people can benefit from drinking more water on a regular basis. Here are some important things to know about water loss, signs of dehydration and best practices for staying hydrated:

Proper hydration is a year-round concern.

Even without physical exertion or warm weather, we lose one to two liters of water each day through sweating, which is how our bodies regulate temperature. Add physical activity or a rise in outdoor temperature, and water loss increases.

Illness and medications can cause dehydration.

Vomiting and diarrhea are two of the most common causes of short-term dehydration. To replenish lost fluids, it’s important to drink plenty of water—and supplement with fluids containing electrolytes—when sidelined with the stomach flu or food poisoning. Some medications, particularly diuretics prescribed for high blood pressure, can also contribute to dehydration. Ask your doctor about dehydration risk when taking new medications.

Watch for signs of dehydration.

In addition to thirst, symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, infrequent urination or urine that is yellow or darker in color, muscle cramping, and lightheadedness (especially when changing positions). More severe signs are abdominal pain, chest pain and heatstroke.

Drink before you’re thirsty to avoid dehydration.

Drinking fluids regularly is the best way to stay hydrated. Many people find it helpful to keep a water bottle with them throughout the day to encourage frequent drinking. While water is best, other drinks and foods will help you stay hydrated.

When planning daily fluid intake, be mindful of caffeine, which can cause some people to urinate more frequently, resulting in fluid loss.

Be prepared to drink more water before, during and after exercise and add a sports drink with electrolytes after more strenuous workouts or when exercising in warmer weather. Increase fluids when taking part in other activities, such as gardening and yardwork. If you’re concerned about dehydration or suffer from related symptoms, talk to your primary care provider.

Ryan Alexander, DO, specializes in family medicine. He is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Primary Care – Epler Parke and can be reached by calling the office at 317.780.4080.

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