Dehydration: Symptoms and Dangers

When the body is deficient in water either due to simply not drinking enough or because of a disease, it can become dangerously dehydrated and sick. Therefore, it is important to monitor its signs and to know how to avoid dangers.

Dehydration symptoms aren’t always obvious and can range from mild to severe. Mild to moderate signs may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Increased thirst
  • Nausea
  • Headaches as if having a hangover after alcohol drinking
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Dry, loose skin that doesn’t return to normal after pinching
  • Urinating less often than usual
  • Dark-yellow urine
  • Muscle cramps.

Signs of severe dehydration that indicate a more serious problem may include:

  • Having very dark-yellow urine or not urinating at all
  • Constipation
  • Racing heart
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Sunken eyes
  • Fainting.

As a rule, dehydration symptoms become noticeable after 2% of one’s normal water volume has been lost. Initially, the person experiences thirst and discomfort, possibly with loss of appetite and dry skin. However, symptoms become increasingly severe with greater water loss. Respiration and heart rate increases to compensate for decreased blood volume and pressure, while the body temperature rises due to increased sweating. After 5% of water loss one may become sleepy, experiencing nausea or migraine, and may feel tingling in the limbs. With 10-15% of water loss, muscles become spastic, skin shrivels, urination reduces, vision may dim and delirium may begin. If dehydration continues, shock and severe damage to internal organs such as kidneys, liver and brain, can occur. Loss of greater than 15% of water can become fatal.

Whether mild or severe, chronic dehydration constitutes dangers to health:

Constipation. Not enough water intake hardens the stool making it difficult to pass. Besides being uncomfortable and painful, it may further lead to abdominal distention, bloating, nausea, vomiting and headache.

Altered blood pressure. When dehydrated, the body releases chemical vasopressin that makes blood vessels constrict. This constriction leads to blood pressure rise. Conversely, dehydration also causes blood pressure to drop, especially upon standing. Both, consistently low or high blood pressure, can damage blood vessels.

Confusion and lethargy. Dehydration can cause the person feel weak and tired. Additionally, it may lead to confusion and poor concentration, which poses the risk of self-injury and harm to others. Even mild dehydration may alter mood, cause emotional and psychical problems and result in depression.

Kidney disease. The combination of hypertension and concentrated urine increases the risk of kidney damage. There can occur uremia, when the kidneys are unable to excrete byproducts form the body. The toxic waste continues to build up and may cause negative health outcomes, including shortness of breath and changes in mental status.

Kidney stones. Decreased urine output is a major risk factor for kidney stones as the concentrated urine decreases the ability to dissolve salts and increases the risk for stones formation.

Seizures. Dehydration affects sodium and potassium levels, which are responsible for carrying electrical signals form cell to cell. These electrolytes imbalance leads to faulted cell communication and results in involuntary muscle contractions, seizures and loss of consciousness.

Hemorrhagic shock. Significant loss of body fluid makes the heart less able to pump a sufficient amount of oxygenated blood to the body organs, increasing the risk of their failure.

Death. The accumulation and acceleration of such dangers ultimately raises the mortality risk, especially if adequate hydration status is unresolved.

It is vitally important to avoid dehydration and address any of its underlying causes at the first signs.