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What Causes Dehydration and What Are the Signs

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For serious athletes or even casual sports enthusiasts, dehydration can be a serious, even deadly problem. In a country like Thailand, where the thermometer routinely soars above 40 degrees C and the humidity levels verge on intolerable, this threat is all the more real. Even in minor instances, dehydration can impair your ability to perform both physically and mentally. In extreme cases, it can lead to disorientation, seizures and death. Here’s what you need to know in order to protect yourself.

What increases your risk of dehydration?

Although you should always take care to stay hydrated, there are certain situations where you should exercise extra caution. If you’re exercising vigorously, especially in Thailand’s climate, you’ll need to replenish those lost fluids and electrolytes regularly to make up for what is lost through sweat. You should also be wary of food poisoning. Both vomiting and even minor diarrhea can rapidly deplete your fluid reserves.

What are the symptoms of mild dehydration?

The symptoms of mild dehydration are often mistaken for general fatigue or other causes. Look out for dry skin, parched lips, a mildly sticky mouth, a headache, low energy levels, constipation, low stretches of time without a need to urinate or general thirst. Many individuals who do not drink the recommended amount of water may be slightly dehydrated for long stretches of time without realizing it.

What are the symptoms of severe dehydration?

Dark urine, unbearable thirst, a rapid pulse, panting or shallow breathing, shriveled skin, sunken eyes, low blood pressure and mental confusion are tell-tale signs of severe dehydration and a reason to seek medical attention immediately.

What happens if severe dehydration is left untreated?

Severe dehydration is not a condition to take lightly. If not dealt with appropriately, dehydration can result in kidney failure, in which the kidney can no longer remove waste from the bloodstream. Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are vital to carry electrical signals throughout the body’s cells. Without those valuable electrolytes, involuntary muscle contractions and seizures are a possibility. Hypovolemic, or low blood volume, can also cause shock to occur and can be life threatening. FInally, cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain, can occur when the body struggles to restore equilibrium by pulling too much water back into the cells. This can cause permanent brain damage.

How can you reduce your risk?

Drinking water is the most obvious way to combat dehydration, but not the only one. Drinking one to three cups (about 0.24 to 0.70 liters) before exercising and continuing to hydrate at regular intervals is key.  It’s equally important to keep replenishing electrolytes throughout the day. Sports drinks are one way to accomplish this, but sodium and potassium are also found in many foods. Leafy green vegetables provide a good source of potassium and most people get plenty of sodium from their regular diets.

References

  1. Mayo Clinic: Diseases and Conditions – Dehydration. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/basics/definition/con-20030056. Accessed on April 5, 2015.

Photo Credit: k.a. gilbert via Compfight cc

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