Every day people end up in the hospital after experiencing serve confusion, dizziness, weakness, and fainting. These symptoms can be frightening, especially when you don’t know what’s causing them. After experiencing these symptoms you may call an ambulance and see a doctor. It’s a scary experience and you may be surprised to hear it was all brought on by dehydration.
Dehydration is fairly common, especially in older adults, as many people don’t drink as much water as they should be. As we age, we start to lose our sense of thirst, and drinking water needs to become a more conscious decision. When this lack of thirst is combined with medications like diuretics, and declining memory it can be dangerous!
Dehydration can come on faster than many think, and to avoid this, you should drink water throughout the day. When you are dehydrated, the first symptoms you will experience are darker yellow urine or decreased urine and increased thirst. The color of urine is the best predictor of hydration level, with clear being better. The darker your urine, the more dehydrated you are.
As you become more dehydrated, your symptoms will worsen. You may experience dizziness, headache, muscle weakness, lethargy, and dry mouth. Severe dehydration occurs when you’ve lost 10% to 15% of your body’s water and can worsen symptoms even more. In addition to the symptoms listed above, you make notice physical changes as well, like dry and shriveled skin, sunken eyes, a lack of sweating when hot, increased heart rate, fever, low blood pressure, unconsciousness, and delirium.
Bodily Benefits of Water
These serious symptoms occur because our bodies need water to function and survive! According to a report from the Harvard Medical School, water has a number of essential jobs. To start, water keeps your cells nourished by carrying nutrients and oxygen to them. It also aids in digestion, prevents constipation and helps flush bacteria from your bladder. Water is also critical for heart health. It normalizes blood pressure and stabilizes your heartbeat. Our bodies are 60% - 75% water, which acts as a cushion for joints, protects tissues and organs and regulates body temperature.
Many of us already know that we need water and that it's important for our health, but it’s not always clear how much water we should be drinking. The consensus is that you should be drinking between four to six glasses of water a day. This is the recommended amount for a healthy adult; however, if you have a health condition like kidney, heart, or thyroid disease or take specific medication, you may need to cut back.
Medications such as opiate pain medications, antidepressants, and steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause water retention, and your intake will depend on your body and how you respond. If you tend to retain water, it is recommended that you speak with your doctor to determine how much water you should be drinking.
Alternatively, you may require more than six cups if you are losing water. If you are exercising or sweating because it's hot out, you will need to replenish the lost water and drink more. Other beverages can contribute as they also contain water; however, there are some that aren’t as healthy as water. There is a myth that caffeinated drinks like coffee and soda will dehydrate you . Though this isn’t true, these drinks aren't as good for your health as they contain sugar and lead to inflammation and weight gain. Further, too much caffeine can make it difficult for you to fall asleep on your buckwheat pillow.
If you don’t like water, you aren’t alone. It may seem strange to some, but it’s pretty common and can make it more challenging to get enough each day. Individuals who don’t like drinking water have been dubbed “hydro-haters,” and are more prone to dehydration.
Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver for the New York Giants, is one of these hydro-haters who finds it challenging to avoid painful cramps and sometimes has to resort to IVs. For those who don’t like the taste, adding a sugar-free flavor can encourage drinking. These are also helpful aids for elderly groups that don’t drink as much.
Another option is herbal tea. Herbal tea, like chamomile tea, can help relax you, improve sleep and hydrate you. Chamomile has plenty of benefits which you can read about more on our blog post on chamomiles benefits.
You can incorporate hydration into your daily routine to ensure you are getting enough fluids. For example, have a smoothie made with water in the water or curl up with a hot water bottle with a cup of chamomile tea before bed.
If you drink popular beverages like Powerade or Gatorade when exercising, it may not be enough. Sports drinks are often marketed to be more hydrating but usually aren’t. Though we often see big jugs of it on the sidelines or in the hands of athletes, they aren’t magic elixirs. According to a Healthline article, the main thing you are consuming in these beverages is water though they may also have some electrolytes and carbs like glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Research has found that although several different brands are available, there isn’t much of a difference in ineffectiveness. That said, because they are flavored and taste good, it may encourage some people to drink more and therefore keep them more hydrated.
Causes of Dehydration
There are certain situations when you should increase your water intake. If you are at risk for dehydration, you must be aware of how much you are drinking and aim to drink three to four cups every couple of hours. The risk of dehydration increases when you are not taking in enough water while simultaneously losing water.
The most common cause of dehydration and dehydration-related death is diarrhea. When your body is functioning normally, your large intestine absorbs water from food, but when you have diarrhea, this doesn’t happen. As a result, your body loses more water than it can take it. Another common cause of dehydration is vomiting. Like diarrhea, vomiting leads to lost fluids and makes it difficult to take it more.
Sweating, whether from intense exercise or high temperatures, can also cause dehydration. When you sweat, you lose fluids, and if you aren’t replenishing them fast enough by drinking water, you can become dehydrated. In addition, if you have a fever, you may also sweat, which can worsen when combined with vomiting and diarrhea.
Diabetes can also increase your risk of dehydration. This health condition causes high blood sugar levels with increased urination and loss of fluid. With uncontrolled diabetes, water intake is important, but when it is managed with medication, you need to speak with your health care provider.
Frequent urination is caused by diabetes or medications like diuretics, antipsychotics, antihistamines, and blood pressure medications. Alcohol can also increase urination and cause dehydration.
It is best to prevent dehydration by drinking enough fluids every day. Further, you need to be mindful of your current health, any existing conditions, and the activities you are engaging with. If you feel you have been slacking on your water intake, have some but don’t make yourself sick chugging glass after glass.
Drinking Too Much Water
The expression “too much of a good thing” rings true for water. Though it is more rare, it can happen. Athletes are more prone to drinking too much water when exercising for an extended period. When you have too much water, you essentially flood your kidneys, and they can’t get rid of the extra water. This causes the sodium in your blood to become diluted, causing hyponatremia which is life-threatening.
Sodium is an electrolyte that regulates the amount of water in your cells. When sodium levels are too low, it can increase your risk of dehydration. With hyponatremia, your body’s water levels have risen, and your cells swell. The symptoms can look very similar to dehydration, such as muscle weakness, loss of energy, and confusion. Additional symptoms include vomiting, seizures, coma, and irritability.
To help people drink more and keep track of their fluid intake, there are special aids available. For example, there are large water bottles that you fill in the morning and drink throughout the day. The goal of these water bottles is to drink the entire bottle before the end of the day. If lugging around a heavy water bottle all day isn’t for you, there are plenty of apps to help you track. In addition to monitoring your food intake, you can track the number of glasses of water you have from your phone. For many of these apps and even some smartwatches, you can program them to send you reminders to drink up!
Whether you enjoy a cup of sleep tea before curling up on your buckwheat pillow or drinking two glasses of water with dinner, getting enough fluids must be a priority. Our bodies need water – we wouldn’t be here without it! So if you want to maximize your health and wellness, it’s time to drink up and get enough glasses in.