Do You Know the Signs of Dehydration?


Approximately 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated, and warmer temperatures can make the situation much more dangerous. Dehydration can occur regardless of the season and it can have significant effects on your health.

“Severe dehydration can be deadly, but even mild dehydration can cause health issues,” said Joy Shaw, PA-C, a certified physician assistant who sees patients at Penn Highlands QCare walk-in clinic in Brookville. “Mild dehydration can cause cognitive effects, such as loss of short-term memory, reduced alertness and concentration, impaired motor skills and more.”

What causes dehydration?

“Dehydration is caused by the loss of fluid from the body,” said Ms. Shaw. “It occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in, resulting in an insufficient amount to function properly.”

Conditions that can cause dehydration include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating too much
  • Urinating too much
  • Fever
  • Not drinking enough water

Who is at risk for dehydration?

While everyone is at risk for dehydration, certain people have a higher risk including:

  • Older adults may lose their sense of thirst as they age and do not drink enough fluids.
  • Infants and young children who are more likely to have diarrhea or vomiting.
  • People with stomach illnesses, who are also more likely to have diarrhea or vomiting.
  • People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis or kidney problems, that cause excessive sweat or urination.
  • People who take medicines that cause them to urinate or sweat.
  • People who exercise or work outdoors during hot weather.

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

Symptoms can vary between adults and children. In adults, symptoms may include:

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Dry mouth
  • Urinating and sweating less than usual
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Dry skin
  • Feeling tired
  • Dizziness

Symptoms in children may include:

  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Crying without tears
  • No wet diapers for three hours or more
  • High fever
  • Being unusually sleepy or drowsy
  • Irritability
  • Eyes that look sunken

Dehydration can be severe enough to be life-threatening. If these symptoms appear in either adults or children, get medical help right away:

  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Lack of urination
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shock

What should I do if I am dehydrated?

There is no secret to the treatment for dehydration — you need to replace the fluids that your body has lost. For a mild case of dehydration, drinking fluids is often enough. Water should be your first choice, but sports drinks are also a good choice because they replace the minerals and electrolytes lost in sweat. If you experience severe symptoms of dehydration, as listed above, seek immediate medical attention.

Can dehydration be prevented?

Yes, preventing dehydration is simple in most cases. You just need to make sure that you drink enough fluids.

  • Drink enough water (people need different amounts of water, so talk with your healthcare provider about how much you should be drinking).
  • Consume a sports drink if you are exercising or working in the heat.
  • Avoid drinks that have sugar and caffeine.
  • Drink extra fluids when the weather is hot or when you are sick.

Planning ahead is an important way to prevent dehydration. If you know that you will be outside in the heat or are at greater risk for dehydration, make sure to take plenty of liquids with you.

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers QCare walk-in clinics for minor injuries and illnesses. Staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, QCare walk-in care is ideal if you cannot get an appointment as quickly as you would like with your family practice physician and your condition is not serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room. To learn more, visit