Dehydration in Adults Overview
Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in. With dehydration, more water is moving out of our cells and bodies than what we take in through drinking.
We lose water every day in the form of water vapor in the breath we exhale and in our excreted sweat, urine, and stool. Along with the water, small amounts of salts are also lost.
When we lose too much water, our bodies may become out of balance or dehydrated. Severe dehydration can lead to death.
Causes of Dehydration in Adults
Many conditions may cause rapid and continued fluid losses and lead to dehydration:
- Fever, heat exposure, and too much exercise
- Vomiting, diarrhea, and increased urination due to infection
- Diseases such as diabetes
- The inability to seek appropriate water and food (as in the case of a disabled person)
- An impaired ability to drink (for instance, someone in a coma or on a respirator)
- No access to safe drinking water
- Significant injuries to skin, such as burns or mouth sores, or severe skin diseases or infections (water is lost through the damaged skin)
Symptoms of Dehydration in Adults
The signs and symptoms of dehydration range from minor to severe and include:
Urine color may indicate dehydration. If urine is concentrated and deeply yellow or amber, you may be dehydrated.
When to Seek Medical CareExams and Tests
The doctor may perform a variety of simple tests at the examination or send blood or urine samples to the laboratory. Through tests and examination, the doctor will try to identify the underlying cause or causes that led to the dehydration.
- Vital signs
- Fever, increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and faster breathing are signs of potential dehydration and other illnesses.
- Taking the pulse and blood pressure while the person is lying down and then after standing up for 1 and 3 minutes can help determine the degree of dehydration. Normally, when you have been lying down and then stand up, there is a small drop in blood pressure for a few seconds. The heart rate speeds up, and blood pressure goes back to normal. However, when there is not enough fluid in the blood because of dehydration and the heart rate speeds up, not enough blood is getting to the brain. The brain senses this condition, and the heartbeats faster. If you are dehydrated, you feel dizzy and faint after standing up.
- The color and clarity of urine, the urine specific gravity (the mass of urine is compared with that of equal amounts of distilled water), and the presence of ketones (carbon compounds that signify dehydration) in the urine may all help to indicate the degree of dehydration.
- Increased glucose in the urine may lead to a diagnosis of diabetesor indicate loss of diabetic control and a cause for the dehydration.
- Excessive protein in the urine may signal kidney problems.
- Signs of infections or other diseases, such as liver disease, may be found by urine testing.
- Blood chemistries
- The amount of salts (sodium and potassium) and sugar, as well as indicators of kidney function (BUN and creatinine), may be important to evaluate the degree of dehydration and possible causes.
- A complete blood count (CBC) may be ordered if the doctor thinks an underlying infection is causing the dehydration. Other blood tests, such as liver function tests, may be indicated to find causes of the symptoms.
Call your doctor if the dehydrated person experiences any of the following:
- Increased or constant vomiting for more than a day
- Fever over 101°F
- Diarrhea for more than 2 days
- Weight loss
- Decreased urine production
Take the person to the hospital's emergency department if these situations occur:
- Fever higher than 103°F
- Sluggishness (lethargy)
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest or abdominal pains
- No urine in the last 12 hours