Signs and Dangers of Dehydration


Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it has taken in and the body lacks the water and fluids needed to conduct normal functions, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Anyone can become dehydration; however, it is especially dangerous for young children and the elderly.

In young children, the most common cause of dehydration is vomiting and diarrhea. The elderly naturally have less water in their bodies and may take medications of have conditions that increase the risk of dehydration. This means that even minor illnesses and infections can cause dehydration.

Dehydration can affect any age group if fluids are not replaced during hot weather or vigorous exercise.

Mild to moderate dehydration can be reversed by drinking more fluids. However, sever dehydration needs medical treatment immediately.

Thirst is not a reliable indicator of early signs of dehydration. Many people do not feel thirsty until they are already dehydrated. It is best to increase fluids when ill and in hot weather.

Dehydration can occur from simple reasons such as not drinking enough because of sickness or being busy, or lack of access to safe drinking water.

Other Causes of Dehydration

Diarrhea, vomiting: severe diarrhea that comes on violently and suddenly can cause a tremendous amount of fluid loss and loss of electrolytes in short period of time. Vomiting with diarrhea can cause the loss of even more fluids and minerals.

Fever: generally, the higher the fever, the worse the dehydration. The problem becomes worse if the fever is accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting.

Excessive sweating: the more sweat, the more loss of fluids. It is important to replace fluids while participating in vigorous activity and in hot, humid weather.

Increased urination: can be caused by undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes and certain medications such as diuretics or blood pressure medications.

Risk Factors

Infants and Children: This is the most likely group to experience sever diarrhea and vomiting. They are susceptible to dehydration. “Having a higher surface area to volume area, they also lose a higher proportion of their fluids from a high fever or burns,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

The Elderly: As people age, the body’s fluid reserve becomes smaller. The ability to conserve water is reduced and the sense of thirst is less acute. These issues can be compounded by chronic illnesses such as dementia and diabetes. It can also be compounded by certain medications. Older adults can also have mobility problems that limit their ability to get water for themselves.

People with Chronic Illnesses: Having uncontrolled or untreated diabetes can increase the risk of dehydration. Kidney disease also increases the risk as well as medications that increase urination. Even a cold or sore throat can make people more susceptible to dehydration because people are less likely to feel like eating or drinking.

People Who Work or Exercise Outside: When it is hot and humid, the risk for dehydration and heat illness is increased. When the air is humid, sweat cannot evaporate and cool a person down as it normally does. This can lead to an increased body temperature and the need for more water.

Dehydration can lead to serious complications, such as heat injury, urinary and kidney problems, seizures, and low blood volume shock.

The signs and symptoms of dehydration differ by age:

Infants and Young Children

  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • No tears when crying
  • No wet diaper for three hours
  • Sunken eyes and cheeks
  • Sunken soft spot
  • Irritability


  • Extreme thirst
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

When to See Doctor

  • Diarrhea for 24 hours or more
  • Irritable or disoriented
  • Much sleepier or less active than usual
  • Unable to keep fluids down
  • Bloody or black stools

By Jeanette Smith


Mayo Clinic: Dehydration

Image Courtesy of elycefeliz's Flickr Page - Creative Commons License

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