The Dangers of Dehydration (Part 1)


With summer here and folks heading to the outdoors for various forms of exercise, knowing the signs and symptoms of dehydration, and how to prevent it is a biggie. Because of the amount of information I want to share with you on this topic, I am splitting this  post  into two parts. Today, in Part 1, we will discuss the signs and symptoms as well as the effects of dehydration. On Wednesday, we will talk about some of the factors that can have an influence on your level of hydration. I’ll also go over the recommended guidelines for proper hydration before, during and after exercise. Let’s get started!

Most of us know that the recommended amount of fluid intake for  an average  woman is 9 cups of  water per day and men should  drink 13 cups per day. Most of us don’t realize  that these amounts are for a sedentary individual.    If your job  is physically demanding or if you exercise on a daily, or near daily basis, your body will require more water in order to function at its highest and most efficient capacity.

First off, we need to understand that when energy is released during metabolic processes (processes that happen inside your cells that are necessary for you to stay alive), the energy manifests itself as heat. No matter what you are doing, from sleeping to swimming and from working to watching a movie, there is a certain amount of heat  being released that must be dissipated. One of the roles that water has  inside our bodies is to help regulate our internal body temperature and aid in keeping us cool. If  you are dehydrated, your body temperature will stay too high and  you will begin to feel  decreased endurance, strength and overall  performance. If left alone and untreated, dehydration can lead to headaches, fatigue, heat exhaustion, heat  cramps and even heatstroke, which can be deadly.

Dehydration is an ugly place to be. Been there. Done that. Not fun. For most individuals, sweat rates range from 3 to 8 cups an hour. At that rate, becoming dehydrated  can happen very quickly. Dehydration is certain when body temperature increases and water loss hits or exceeds just 2% of your current body weight. To understand more clearly, let’s use the example of a 130 pound woman. A 2% loss for her would  be 2.6 pounds. What does 2.6 pounds of fluid look like? Think about a gallon of milk. A gallon holds 16 cups and weighs 8.8 pounds. That means each cup weighs .55, so just over half a pound. If you take 2.6 pounds and divide it by .55, you get 4.72 cups. So for a 130 pound woman to become dehydrated, she would have to  lose 2.6 pounds or 4.72 cups of fluid. At the sweat rates mentioned above, it wouldn’t take long for our 130 pound woman to become dehydrated.

What happens when you get dehydrated? I’ve compiled  a list of some of the signs and symptoms of dehydration to watch out for, not only in yourselves, but in those around you as well. As a general rule, make sure that you listen to your body and what it is trying to tell you. You’ll probably notice that thirst is not mentioned on the list below. The reason being  that thirst is a late sign of dehydration and therefore not a reliable indicator as to your body’s  true level of hydration.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

  • Loss of Appetite
  • Dry Skin
  • Skin Flushing
  • Dark Colored Urine
  • Dry “Cotton” Mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Head Rushes
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Chills

If   left untreated, water loss will continue. When total fluid loss reaches 5% of your body weight, the effects of dehydration will begin to manifest themselves.

Effects of Dehydration

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiration
  • Decreased sweating
  • Decreased urination
  • Increased body temperature
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Tingling of the limbs

Again, if left untreated, water loss will continue. When total fluid loss hits 10%, emergency help is needed immediately, a 10% fluid loss or greater is often fatal.

Signs and Symptoms of Severe Dehydration

  • Muscle cramping and spasms
  • Vomiting
  • Racing pulse
  • Shriveled skin
  • Dim vision/vision of a small area surrounded by “darkness”
  • Painful urination
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Chest and Abdominal pain
  • Unconsciousness

Make sure to check back on Wednesday for Part 2 where we will go over the guidelines for proper hydration before, during and after your workout as well as weigh the options of sports drinks vs. water. Which one is better for re-hydration? See ya then!

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