Dehydration results from excessive loss of fluids from the body.
To work properly, the body requires a certain amount of water and other elements, called electrolytes. Drinking and eating help to replace fluids that have been lost through the body's functions. Fluids are normally lost through sweat, urine, bowel movements, and breathing. If you lose a lot of fluids and do not replace them, you can become dehydrated.
Dehydration is more common in children younger than 2 years and people aged 65 years or older, especially those with chronic illness.
Factors that may increase the risk of dehydration include:
- High fever
- Exposure to the heat and sun
- Excessive exercise, including athletic competitions
- Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- Medications, including diuretics and laxatives
- Reduced fluid intake due to certain conditions, such as movement problems, mental health or memory problems, decreased ability to perceive thirst
- Fluid imbalance caused by certain conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, burns, and infection
Symptoms vary depending on the degree of dehydration. Symptoms may include:
- Dry mouth
- Limited tear production
- Decreased urination
- Concentrated urine—darker color, stronger odor
- Wrinkled skin or dry skin
- Parched, cracked lips
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fast breathing
- Weight loss
- In infants, sunken soft spot in the skull
Soft Spot in Infant Skull
Dehydration can be extremely serious and life threatening. It may require immediate medical care.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Urine tests
- Blood tests
Therapy aims to rehydrate the body, replace lost electrolytes, and prevent complications. If you have an underlying condition, your doctor will treat that as well.
Treatment may include:
If you have minimal or moderate dehydration, your doctor may have you replace fluids by mouth. You may need to:
- Drink small amounts of oral rehydration solution throughout the day. Continue to drink the oral rehydration solution.
- Adults may need plain water or salty liquids like broth. Avoid beverages with alcohol and caffeine, carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, and gelatin.
- Increase the amount of liquid as you can tolerate it.
If you are severely dehydrated, IV fluids will be given to rapidly replace fluids.
Your doctor may recommend that you take medication, such as:
- Anti-nausea and vomiting medications
- Antidiarrheal medication for severe diarrhea or abdominal cramping
- Antibiotics for severe diarrhea caused by a certain bacterial infections
If you are diagnosed with dehydration, follow your doctor's instructions.
To prevent dehydration:
- Drink plenty of fluids, even if you are busy or sick.
- Drink fluids regularly while exercising or when outdoors on a hot day. Stop frequently for fluid breaks.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Dehydration and hypovolemia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 5, 2015. Accessed January 8, 2015.
Dehydration and hypovolemia in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 5, 2015. Accessed January 8, 2015.
Rehydration therapy in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 5, 2015. Accessed January 8, 2015.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Peter Lucas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.