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General Information

DEFINITION--Loss of water content and essential body salts (electrolytes) needed for normal body function. Necessary salts contain sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate and phosphate. Dehydration is most dangerous in newborns, infants and persons over 60. Water accounts for about 60% of a man's weight and 50% of a woman's weight and needs to be kept in fairly narrow limits to maintain cells and body tissue.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Blood; gastrointestinal tract; kidneys.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes; all ages.


  • Dry mouth.
  • Decreased or absent urination.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Wrinkled skin.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness; confusion; coma.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Severe thirst.
  • Increase in heart rate and breathing.


  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea from any cause.
  • Persistent high fever.
  • Heavy sweating.
  • Use of drugs that deplete fluids and electrolytes, such as diuretics ("water pills").
  • Overexposure to sun or heat.
  • Not taking in sufficient amount of water.


  • Newborns and infants.
  • Adults over 60.
  • Recent illness with high fever.
  • Diabetes mellitus.
  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Adrenal disease.
  • Chronic lung disease.


  • Obtain medical treatment for underlying causes of dehydration.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhea, drink enough water to keep urine consistently pale (you may not feel thirsty, but fluid intake is essential).
  • If you use diuretics, weigh daily. Report to your doctor a weight loss of more than 3 pounds in 1 day or 5 pounds in 1 week.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory blood studies, including blood counts and electrolyte measurement (See Glossary).


  • Self-care.
  • Doctor's treatment.
  • Hospitalization for intravenous fluids (severe or prolonged illness only).


  • Depends on any serious underlying cause. Usually with mild symptoms, no complications are expected.
  • Severe dehydration or electrolyte imbalance may lead to heartbeat irregularities, cardiac arrest and death.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Curable in 24-48 hours with control of the underlying cause and replacement of necessary fluids.

How To Treat


  • Weigh daily on an accurate home scale and record the weight so you can be aware of fluid loss.
  • If you have vomiting or diarrhea, keep a record of the number of episodes so you can estimate your fluid loss.
  • For minor dehydration, take frequent small amounts of clear liquids. Large amounts may trigger vomiting.

MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe intravenous fluids to replace lost water, anti-emetic drug if vomiting is severe, or drugs for the diarrhea if it is persistent.

ACTIVITY--Rest in bed until you recover.

DIET-- Drink electrolyte solutions. For adults, diluting commercial solutions such as Gatorade or Recharge with an equal amount of water may be adequate. For children, use special commercial products (Pedialyte or Ricelyte). Instructions are on the labels.

Call Your Doctor If

    You have symptoms of dehydration.

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