A typical adult body is about 60% water, and the brain and heart are close to 75% water. Water is one of the essential things we need to ingest every day. The body uses water for digestion, making hormones, lining and cushioning organs, lubricating joints, eliminating toxins and delivering nutrients to body cells.
The body gets rid of water through respiration, sweating, and digestion. Therefore, it is important to replenish fluid levels daily to maintain adequate fluid levels in the body.
How much water or fluid you need per day can depend on many factors including: body size, physical activity level, age and environmental condition.
A general recommendation for fluid intake is between 9-13 cups of fluids per day. All fluids can count toward your daily fluid intake, but health experts recommend most of your fluid should be water.
Beverages like soda can add empty calories to your diet and could increase risk for weight gain.
When fluid levels drop, thirst can kick in. At this point, you may already be slightly dehydrated.
Thirst signal is blunted in the elderly and young populations, so thirst level isn’t always a reliable indicator of hydration status.
Mild dehydration can be helped by increasing fluid intake, but severe dehydration needs medical attention.
People at risk of dehydration
The elderly have a blunted thirst sense, and the ability to hold water in the body is diminished. Therefore, they are at a higher risk for dehydration.
They may not notice they are dehydrated because they are not thirsty.
Young children may also not have an accurate thirst mechanism, and they are more susceptible to losing a higher volume of their body fluids from a fever or diarrhea.
Certain medical conditions that increase urine output could also increase risk for dehydration.
Kidney disease, diabetes or some blood pressure medications can affect urine output. Even being sick with a cold or fever can affect hydration status and may increase risk for slight dehydration.
If you are exercising in a hot environment or for an extended period of time, your risk for dehydration can increase.
Sweating increases fluid loss, so if you are not properly replacing fluid and electrolytes back into your body, risk for dehydration goes up.
Symptoms of mild dehydration
Mild dehydration is usually not a severe condition and can be alleviated with hydrating.
Feeling thirsty can be one way the brain signals there is a drop-in fluid levels in the body and is attempting to increase hydration levels.
One potential problem with relying on thirst alone is you can drink a cup of water that may satisfy your thirst, but you may need more than the amount that satisfies your thirst to adequately increase fluid levels in the body.
Besides increased thirst to increase fluid intake, the body will also lower excretion of fluids when mildly dehydrated.
This means urine output is decreased. As a result, urine can be darker in color and smaller amount.
Health experts suggest using urine color to gauge hydration levels throughout the day. Very pale to clear urine generally means you are well hydrated.
Yellow to darker shades of brown can indicate the body is dehydrated. If urine color is dark, that is a sign to drink more water.
WebMD (1) also suggests other symptoms of mild dehydration can include: headache, dry mouth, feeling weak, dizzy, confused or feeling fatigued.
Symptoms of severe dehydration
If confusion, dizziness and/or fatigue become pronounced, medical attention is needed.
Having a high fever and/or diarrhea for more than 2 days or vomiting more than 1 day may also require medical attention for dehydration.
Severely decreased urine output or trouble with body temperature regulation is also a sign of severe dehydration.
Dangerous symptoms of dehydration can also include heat injuries in people exercising in hot conditions. Dehydration could be serious enough to lead to fainting, seizures or death.
If someone is experiencing concerning side effects from dehydration, seek medical attention immediately.
If young children appear listless, have dry diapers and do not produce tears when crying these are symptoms of severe dehydration and should be treated immediately.
What to do if you are dehydrated
If you think you may be mildly dehydrated, increasing your fluid intake can alleviate mild dehydration.
How much fluids you should drink can depend. You can start with aiming for general daily recommended fluid intake between 9-13 cups of fluid per day.
Spread out your fluid intake throughout the day instead of trying to drink most of your fluid intake at once.
Increasing your water intake may take some adjusting. Having a water bottle with you may help encourage fluid intake or setting reminders on your phone to drink water at certain intervals may help.
As you increase fluids, urine output can increase. However, over time your body can adjust to new levels of hydration.
Other ways to increase fluids is to eat foods high in water content like fruits and vegetables.
Most fruits and vegetables are mainly water, so eating more of these foods can also add to your fluid intake.
If someone has a heat injury or may be severely dehydrated, seek medical attention immediately.
Drinking fluids at that point may or may not be recommended depending on symptoms.
If you exercise in the heat or for extended periods of time, consult an exercise specialist to guide you on how to properly replenish fluid and electrolyte levels.
Just drinking water during an endurance athletic event may not replenish electrolyte levels which could lead to hyponatremia.