Dehydration is a state in which the body lacks its normal complement of water and electrolytes. Severe dehydration can lead to multi-system failure and death, and is therefore considered a life-threatening condition that demands urgent hospital treatment. Brain damage, convulsions, thrombus formation and death are just some of the serious complications of severe dehydration.
Dehydration can occur due to various reasons, some of which have to do with loss of excessive fluid from the body, while others have to do with failure to take in adequate amounts of fluids. Common causes include:
Almost anyone can become dehydrated, but the following groups are observed to have a higher incidence:
Dehydration may be mild or severe.
Mild to moderate dehydration may present as:
Severe dehydration manifests as an exaggeration of all the above. In addition, there may be:
As we are still lacking clinically sound and prospective diagnostic tool for determining the exact level of dehydration in children, clinical examination is thus the best path for determining adequate treatment. Dehydration is treated by rapidly increasing the intake of balanced electrolyte-rich fluids, rather than water.
In the case of mild dehydration, the simplest way at home is to make an oral rehydration solution with 6 teaspoons of sugar to 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 liter of boiled and cooled water. If a chemist is handy, readymade oral rehydration salt packages are available.
Water alone in large amounts may dilute the salt content of the body and lead to other serious symptoms. Whenever fluid replacement is given by mouth, young children and infants may drink and retain more if a teaspoon or a syringe is used to administer it.
If severe dehydration is present, hospital treatment is mandatory. Intravenous fluid administration is the usual first-line therapy. In cases of diarrhea or vomiting that last for more than one day, or the onset of severe vomiting or diarrhea, or the inability to retain an adequate amount of fluids (as shown by the above indicators), medical management is essential to prevent and/or treat dehydration.