Top of the pageCheck Your Symptoms

Topic Overview

Dehydration occurs when your body loses too
much fluid. This can happen when you stop drinking water or lose large amounts
of fluid through diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, or
exercise. Not drinking enough fluids can cause muscle
cramps. You may feel faint. Usually your body can reabsorb fluid from your
blood and other body tissues. But by the time you become
severely dehydrated, you no longer have enough fluid
in your body to get blood to your organs, and you may go into
shock, which is a life-threatening condition.

Dehydration can occur in anyone of any age, but it is most dangerous for
babies, small children, and older adults.

Dehydration in babies and small children

Babies and
small children have an increased chance of becoming
dehydrated because:

  • A greater portion of their bodies is made of
    water.
  • Children have a high
    metabolic rate, so their bodies use more
    water.
  • A child’s kidneys do not conserve water as well as an
    adult’s kidneys.
  • A child’s natural defense system that helps fight
    infection (immune system) is not fully developed, which increases
    the chance of getting an illness that causes vomiting and
    diarrhea.
  • Children often will not drink or eat when they are not
    feeling well.
  • They depend on their caregivers to provide them with
    food and fluids.

Dehydration in older adults

Older adults have an
increased chance of becoming dehydrated because they may:

  • Not drink because they do not feel as thirsty
    as younger people.
  • Have kidneys that do not work
    well.
  • Choose not to drink because of the inability to control their
    bladders (incontinence).
  • Have physical problems or a
    disease which makes it:

    • Hard to drink or hold a
      glass.
    • Painful to get up from a chair.
    • Painful or
      exhausting to go to the bathroom.
    • Hard to talk or communicate
      to someone about their symptoms.
  • Take
    medicines that increase urine output.
  • Not
    have enough money to adequately feed themselves.

Watch babies, small children, and older adults closely
for the early symptoms of dehydration anytime they have illnesses that cause
high fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. These are the early symptoms of dehydration:

  • The mouth and eyes may be drier than
    usual.
  • The person may pass less urine than usual.
  • The person may feel cranky, tired, or dizzy.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you
should see a doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a concern about dehydration?
Yes
Concern about dehydration
No
Concern about dehydration
How old are you?
Less than 3 months
Less than 3 months
3 months to 11 years
3 months to 11 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female
Does your baby seem sick?
A sick baby probably will not be acting normally. For example, the baby may be much fussier than usual or not want to eat.
Yes
Baby seems sick
No
Baby seems sick
How sick do you think your baby is?
Extremely sick
Baby is very sick (limp and not responsive)
Sick
Baby is sick (sleepier than usual, not eating or drinking like usual)
Does your child have symptoms of shock?
Yes
Signs of shock
No
Signs of shock
Do you have symptoms of shock?
Yes
Symptoms of shock
No
Symptoms of shock
Do you think your baby may be dehydrated?
Yes
May be dehydrated
No
May be dehydrated
Are the symptoms severe, moderate, or mild?
Severe
Severe dehydration
Moderate
Moderate dehydration
Mild
Mild dehydration
Do you think your child may be dehydrated?
It can be harder to tell in a baby or young child than it is in an older child.
Yes
May be dehydrated
No
May be dehydrated
Are the symptoms severe, moderate, or mild?
Severe
Severe dehydration
Moderate
Moderate dehydration
Mild
Mild dehydration
Is your child having trouble drinking enough to replace the fluids he or she has lost?
Little sips of fluid usually are not enough. The child needs to be able to take in and keep down plenty of fluids.
Yes
Unable to drink enough fluids
No
Able to drink enough fluids
Do you think you may be dehydrated?
Yes
May be dehydrated
No
May be dehydrated
Are the symptoms severe, moderate, or mild?
Severe
Severe dehydration
Moderate
Moderate dehydration
Mild
Mild dehydration
Are you having trouble drinking enough to replace the fluids you’ve lost?
Little sips of fluid usually are not enough. You need to be able to take in and keep down plenty of fluids.
Yes
Unable to maintain fluid intake
No
Able to maintain fluid intake
Do you think that a medicine could be causing the dehydration?
Think about whether the problem started after you began using a new medicine or a higher dose of a medicine.
Yes
Medicine may be causing dehydration
No
Medicine may be causing dehydration

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older
    adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
    disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
    sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain
    medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
    worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery
    or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
    more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
    use, sexual history, and travel.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the
    symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any
    concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect).
    You may need care sooner.

You can get dehydrated when
you lose a lot of fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.

Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to severe. For
example:

  • You may feel tired and edgy (mild dehydration), or
    you may feel weak, not alert, and not able to think clearly (severe
    dehydration).
  • You may pass less urine than usual (mild
    dehydration), or you may not be passing urine at all (severe
    dehydration).

Severe dehydration means:

  • Your mouth and eyes may be extremely
    dry.
  • You may pass little or no urine for 12 or more
    hours.
  • You may not feel alert or be able to think
    clearly.
  • You may be too weak or dizzy to stand.
  • You may
    pass out.

Moderate dehydration means:

  • You may be a lot more thirsty than
    usual.
  • Your mouth and eyes may be drier than usual.
  • You may
    pass little or no urine for 8 or more hours.
  • You may feel dizzy
    when you stand or sit up.

Mild dehydration means:

  • You may be more thirsty than usual.
  • You may pass less urine than usual.

Babies can quickly get dehydrated when they lose fluids because of problems like
vomiting or fever.

Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to
severe. For example:

  • The baby may be fussy or cranky (mild dehydration),
    or the baby may be very sleepy and hard to wake up (severe
    dehydration).
  • The baby may have a little less urine than usual
    (mild dehydration), or the baby may not be urinating at all (severe
    dehydration).

Severe dehydration means:

  • The baby may be very sleepy and hard to wake
    up.
  • The baby may have a very dry mouth and very dry eyes (no
    tears).
  • The baby may have no wet diapers in 12 or more hours.

Moderate dehydration means:

  • The baby may have no wet diapers in 6 hours.
  • The
    baby may have a dry mouth and dry eyes (fewer tears than usual).

Mild dehydration means:

  • The baby may pass a little less urine than usual.

Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly
after a sudden illness or injury.

Symptoms of shock in a child may include:

  • Passing out (losing consciousness).
  • Being very sleepy or hard
    to wake up.
  • Not responding when being touched or talked to.
  • Breathing much faster than usual.
  • Acting confused.
    The child may not know where he or she is.

Severe dehydration means:

  • The child’s mouth and eyes may be extremely dry.
  • The child may pass little or no urine for 12 or more
    hours.
  • The child may not seem alert or able to think clearly.
  • The child may be too weak or dizzy to stand.
  • The
    child may pass out.

Moderate dehydration means:

  • The child may be a lot more thirsty than
    usual.
  • The child’s mouth and eyes may be drier than
    usual.
  • The child may pass little or no urine for 8 or more hours.
  • The child may feel dizzy when he or she stands or sits up.

Mild dehydration means:

  • The child may be more thirsty than
    usual.
  • The child may pass less urine than usual.

A baby that is extremely sick:

  • May be limp and floppy like a rag
    doll.
  • May not respond at all to being held, touched, or talked
    to.
  • May be hard to wake up.

A baby that is sick (but not extremely
sick):

  • May be sleepier than usual.
  • May not eat
    or drink as much as usual.

Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur
after a sudden illness or injury.

Symptoms of shock (most of which will be present) include:

  • Passing out (losing consciousness).
  • Feeling very dizzy or
    lightheaded, like you may pass out.
  • Feeling very weak or having
    trouble standing.
  • Not feeling alert or able to think clearly. You
    may be confused, restless, fearful, or unable to respond to questions.

Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause
dehydration. A few examples are:

  • Antihistamines.
  • Blood pressure
    medicines.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Diuretics.
  • Laxatives.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
    and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t
    have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
    seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care
    sooner.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need
emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
    arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t have
    one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an
    ambulance unless:

    • You cannot travel safely either by driving
      yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area
      where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.

Home Treatment

In the early stages, you may be
able to correct
mild to moderate dehydration with home treatment
measures. It is important to take action to prevent dehydration.

Adults and children age 12 and older

If you become
mildly to moderately dehydrated while working outside or exercising:

  • Stop your activity and rest.
  • Get
    out of direct sunlight and lie down in a cool spot, such as in the shade or an
    air-conditioned area.
  • Prop up your feet.
  • Take off any
    extra clothes.
  • Drink a rehydration drink, water, juice, or sports
    drink to replace fluids and minerals. Drink 2 qt (2 L) of cool liquids over
    the next 2 to 4 hours. You should drink at least 10 glasses of liquid a day to
    replace lost fluids. You can make an inexpensive rehydration drink at home. But
    do not give this homemade drink to children younger than 12. Measure all ingredients precisely. Small variations can make the
    drink less effective or even harmful. Mix the following:

    • 1 quart water
    • ½ teaspoon table salt
    • 6 teaspoons sugar

Rest and take it easy for 24 hours, and continue to drink a
lot of fluids. Although you will probably start feeling better within just a
few hours, it may take as long as a day and a half to completely replace the
fluid that you lost.

Newborns and babies younger than 1 year of age

Don’t
wait until
you see signs of dehydration in your baby. These signs include your baby being thirstier than usual and having less urine than usual.

  • If you breastfeed your baby, nurse him or her
    more often. Offer each breast to your baby for 1 to 2 minutes every 10 minutes.
  • If you use a bottle to feed your baby, increase the number of feedings to make up for lost fluids. The amount of extra fluid your baby needs depends on your baby’s age and size. For example, a newborn may need as little as 1 fl oz (30 mL) at each extra feeding, while a 12-month-old baby may need as much as 3 fl oz (90 mL) at each extra feeding.
  • Ask your doctor if you need to use an
    oral rehydration solution (ORS) if your baby still isn’t getting enough fluids from formula or the breast. The
    amount of ORS your baby needs depends on your baby’s age and size. You can give the ORS in a dropper, spoon, or
    bottle.
  • If your baby has started eating cereal, you may replace
    lost fluids with cereal. You also may feed your baby strained bananas and
    mashed potatoes if your child has had these foods before.

Children ages 1 through 11

  • Make sure your child is drinking often.
    Frequent, small amounts work best.
  • Allow your child to drink as much fluid as he or she wants.
    Encourage your child to
    drink extra fluids or suck on flavored ice pops, such as Popsicles. Note: Do not give your child fruit juice or soda pop. Fruit juice and soda pop contain too much sugar and not enough of the essential minerals (electrolytes) that are being lost. Diet soda pop lacks calories that your child needs.
  • Cereal mixed with milk or water may also be
    used to replace lost fluids.
  • If your child still is not getting enough fluids, you can try an oral rehydration solution (ORS).

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
treatment:

  • More serious
    dehydration develops.
  • Decreased alertness
    develops.
  • You become dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you might
    faint when you rise from lying to sitting or from sitting to
    standing.
  • Decreased urination develops.
  • Symptoms become
    more severe or frequent.

Prevention

The following tips may help you prevent
dehydration.

  • Drink plenty of water before, while, and after you
    are active. This is very important when it’s hot out and when you do intense
    exercise. You can drink water or
    rehydration drinks.

    • Drink plenty of water before, during, and
      after
      exercise.
    • Take a container of water or
      sports drink with you when you exercise, and try to drink at least every 15 to
      20 minutes.
    • Use a sports drink if you will be exercising for longer
      than 1 hour.
  • Encourage your child to
    drink extra fluids or suck on flavored ice pops, such as Popsicles.
  • Avoid high-protein diets. If you are on a high-protein
    diet, make sure that you drink at least 8 to 12 glasses of water each
    day.
  • Avoid
    alcohol, including beer and wine. They increase
    dehydration and make it hard to make good decisions.
  • Do not
    take salt tablets. Most people get plenty of salt in their diets. Use a sports
    drink if you are worried about replacing minerals lost through
    sweating.
  • Stop working outdoors or exercising if you feel dizzy,
    lightheaded, or very tired.
  • Wear one layer of lightweight,
    light-colored clothing when you are working or exercising outdoors. Change into
    dry clothing as soon as you can if your clothes get soaked with sweat.
    Never exercise in a rubber suit.

Prompt home treatment for diarrhea, vomiting, or fever will help prevent dehydration.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
following questions:

  • When did the dehydration problem
    start?
  • What activities cause you to feel
    dehydrated?
  • Have you had a hard time getting enough fluids or
    holding down fluids because of vomiting, diarrhea, or fever?
  • If
    vomiting or diarrhea is causing your dehydration, how many episodes have you
    had in the last 24 hours? When was the last episode of vomiting or
    diarrhea?
  • Has nausea kept you from taking in enough
    fluids?
  • What prescription and nonprescription medicines do you
    take?
  • Have you been using water pills (diuretics) or
    laxatives?
  • What have you tried so far to help you
    rehydrate?
  • What activities related to sports or work make your
    symptoms better or worse?
  • Do you have any
    health risks?

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP – Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine

Current as ofMarch 20, 2017