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Definition Return to top
Dehydration means your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. Dehydration can be caused by losing too much fluid, not drinking enough water or fluids, or both. Vomiting and diarrhea are common causes.
Infants and children are more susceptible to dehydration than adults because of their smaller body weights and higher turnover of water and electrolytes. The elderly and those with illnesses are also at higher risk.
Dehydration is classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on how much of the body's fluid is lost or not replenished. When severe, dehydration is a life-threatening emergency.
Causes Return to top
Your body may lose too much fluids from:
Dehydration in sick children is often a combination of both -- refusing to eat or drink anything while also losing fluid from vomiting, diarrhea, or fever.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
A physical examination may also show signs of:
Treatment Return to top
Drinking fluids is usually sufficient for mild dehydration. It is better to have frequent, small amounts of fluid (using a teaspoon or syringe for an infant or child) rather than trying to force large amounts of fluid at one time. Drinking too much fluid at once can bring on more vomiting.
Electrolyte solutions or freezer pops are especially effective. These are available at pharmacies. Sport drinks contain a lot of sugar and can cause or worsen diarrhea. In infants and children, avoid using water as the primary replacement fluid.
Intravenous fluids and hospitalization may be necessary for moderate to severe dehydration. The doctor will try to identify and then treat the cause of the dehydration.
Most cases of stomach viruses (also called viral gastroenteritis) tend to resolve on their own after a few days. See also: diarrhea
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
When dehydration is recognized and treated promptly, the outcome is generally good.
Possible Complications Return to top
Untreated severe dehydration may result in seizures, permanent brain damage, or death.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call 911 if you or your child have the following symptoms
Call your doctor right away if you or your child has any of the following symptoms:
Also call your doctor if you are not sure whether your attempts to give your child proper fluids are working.Also call your doctor if:
Prevention Return to top
Even when healthy, drink plenty of fluid every day. Drink more when the weather is hot or you are exercising.
Carefully monitor someone who is ill, especially an infant, child, or older adult. If you believe that dehydration is developing, consult a doctor before the person becomes moderately or severely dehydrated. Begin fluid replacement as soon as vomiting and diarrhea start -- DO NOT wait for signs of dehydration.
Always encourage the person to drink during an illness, and remember that a person's fluid needs are greater when that person has fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. The easiest signs to monitor are urine output (there should be frequent wet diapers or trips to the bathroom), saliva in the mouth, and tears when crying.
References Return to top
Porter SC. The value of parental report for diagnosis and management of dehydration in the emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 2003; 41(2): 196-205.
Guerrant RL. Practice guidelines for the management of infectious diarrhea. Clin Infec Dis. 2001; 32(3): 331-351.
Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. American Academy of Pediatrics. Climatic heat stress and the exercising child and adolescent. Pediatrics. 2000; 106(1 Pt 1): 158-159.Update Date: 9/28/2007 Updated by: Deirdre O’Reilly, MD, MPH, Neonatologist, Division of Newborn Medicine, Children’s Hospital Boston and Instructor in Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Review Provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.