Water is essential for keeping your body working normally. It helps regulate body temperature and removes waste. Every day, your body loses about 2 quarts of water when you exhale, sweat, and urinate. You replace most of this by eating and drinking fluids. Physical activity and extreme heat and humidity in the summer months can cause you to lose even more water. If you lose more water than you take in, you can become dehydrated. This article covers dehydration warnings signs and tips on preventing dehydration.
Who’s at Risk for Dehydration
Dehydration is a serious health risk. It’s most often associated with heat waves, but dehydration can happen any time of year if you have an illness that causes diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or sweating. Medications that increase urination, including some antihistamines and blood pressure medications, can also dehydrate you. People with chronic illnesses that affect kidney function, such as diabetes, are at high risk for dehydration. And so are the elderly — as we age, our bodies do not hold on to water or adapt to extreme heat and humidity as well as they once did. Because of that, knowing the warning signs and tips for preventing dehydration is especially important for older adults.
Warning Signs of Dehydration
You may not always feel thirsty when you are dehydrated. For example, the sense of thirst diminishes with age, so by the time you feel thirsty you may already have lost too much fluid.
Rather than go by thirst, go by the color of your urine. It should be clear and light yellow. Dark or amber-colored urine is a sign of severe dehydration. Other signs of severe dehydration include:
- Little or no urine
- Dry skin (it stays folded when pinched)
- Irritability, dizziness, or confusion
Not getting enough fluids, especially if you are physically active or it is hot outside, is the most obvious cause of dehydration, but it isn’t the only one. It’s important to stay hydrated all year long:
- During the winter, indoor air can dry skin and mucous membranes, so your need for fluids increases. In addition, you may need to replace sweat lost while wearing heavy clothing.
- At the first sign of illness, including a cold, increase your water intake. If dehydration is caused by diarrhea, avoid fruit juice, sodas, and caffeinated beverages.
- When it’s hot or humid outside, additional water helps to keep your body cool and hydrated.
Eat and Drink to Stay Hydrated
For most of us, drinking plenty of fluids and eating foods with a high water content — including most fruits and vegetables — can keep our bodies properly hydrated. Here are more tips for staying hydrated:
- Drink six to eight glasses of fluid every day. (This amount includes the water both in foods and in beverages.)
- Water is the best fluid for hydration because it has no calories, sugar, carbonation, or preservatives.
- Limit fruit juices, sodas, and fitness waters because they contain sugars that can make you feel thirsty.
- Eat fruits and vegetables that are high in water, such as grapes, oranges, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, watermelon, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and celery. See the table below for other hydration-boosting foods.
- Avoid or limit coffee, tea, alcohol, and sodas containing caffeine — these increase urination, causing you to lose water at a faster than normal rate.
Make Hydration a Part of Your Daily Routine
- Have a glass of water when you wake up in the morning.
- Keep a glass of water next to your bed at night.
- Carry a water bottle with you if you are away from home for long periods of time.
- Avoid the midday sun and limit physical activity when it is very hot outside.
- Schedule outdoor activities in the morning or evening.
How Much Water Do You Need to Prevent Dehydration?
Most adults need about 2 quarts (64 ounces) of fluids every day, but that amount increases with heat and humidity and can be affected by activity level, medications, and other factors. Before you guzzle a half gallon of water, remember that most fluids count toward your 2 quarts, as do many foods. Raw fruits and vegetables are particularly high in water.
These Foods Boost Hydration
This table gives the percentage of water in various foods and the amount of each you need to eat to obtain about ½ cup (4 ounces) of water.
|Cucumber||1 cup, peeled and sliced||96%|
|Watermelon||1 cup, diced||92%|
|Bell pepper||¾ cup, sliced||92%|
|Cantaloupe||1/10 (a small wedge)||90%|
By drinking enough fluid every day and knowing the symptoms of dehydration, you can help your body to stay healthy.