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News | one month ago

Tips for Preventing Dehydration

Most of us don’t drink enough water to support good health. A family physician offers practical tips for staying hydrated throughout the year.

It is always the perfect time to talk about dehydration, whether it’s the heat of summer or the dead of winter. Even if you’re just working at your desk, it’s important to drink fluids throughout the day.

About 75% of Americans are dehydrated, which means most of us don’t drink enough fluids to support healthy body functions. Since our bodies are 70% water, hydration is vital for keeping our bones, muscles and skin in tip-top condition. But it also keeps problems from developing.

Dr. Douglas Chen, family physician with Atrium Health Primary Care Lake Park Family Medicine, says that for the majority of his patients, drinking more fluids will be part of their treatment.

“Staying hydrated is the foundation of good health,” Chen says. “The first thing they do when you are admitted to the hospital is give you an IV for fluids. It’s that important.” 

Who are most at risk for dehydration? Typically, it affects younger children, especially infants and young toddlers. It also commonly affects elderly people (above age 65).

“Dehydration can also affect those with chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and emphysema,” notes Chen. “Since their bodies are in overactive metabolic states tending to their illness, they require more fluids than normal. Some take medicines that can also lead to a need for more water.”

Symptoms of dehydration

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize how easy it is to get dehydrated until they start feeling its effects. It’s easy to get busy and forget to drink regularly. People most often think about hydration when they’re exercising or when their mouth starts feeling dry.

The most common symptoms of dehydration are dry mouth, dry skin, muscle cramps, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, dark-colored urine and sleepiness. Dehydration can also cause memory issues, cognitive problems and moodiness.

The long-term effects of dehydration include dry skin, kidney stones, kidney damage, chronic kidney disease (which starts with high blood pressure), constipation and other bowel issues.

Tips for proper hydration

Chen recommends following these guidelines for staying hydrated:

  • Drink 10 cups of water (64 ounces) a day. Most people only drink 2 ½ glasses a day.
  • Make hydration part of your routine. Drink a glass of water early in the morning. Plan to have a glass of water before each meal. And finish the day with a glass of water before bed.
  • Get an insulated mug or cup. This will keep your beverages cold and refreshing. Keep it handy throughout the day (at your desk or in your car) to encourage regular drinking.
  • Make filtered water available at work. If you’re a business owner or employer, provide filtered water to your employees at convenient locations throughout your facility. Consider installing a water filtration system. Most people don’t trust tap water for drinking. If you’re an employee, ask your manager or department head about supplying filtered water throughout the facility.
  • Keep it regular. Don’t go more than an hour without taking a sip!

Remember: If you find yourself feeling dehydrated, it takes an hour or two after drinking fluids to start feeling better.

Drink This, Not That

“Water is the gold standard for hydration,” explains Chen. “Everything else is not as good.”

In addition to plain water, water infused with fruits or vegetables can help you maintain proper hydration. If you’re infusing your water, use lemon or lime to stimulate your salivary glands and keep your mouth moist. Sparkling water may be a good option – as long as there’s no added sugar.

If you’re an athlete, drinking sports drinks with electrolytes can help your body perform at its best while exercising. Just watch out for added sugar. Sugary drinks require more free water from your body to digest, so you end up getting more sugar than fluid. When it comes to hydration, the lower the sugar, the better.

Limit your intake of alcohol and drinks with caffeine since they act as a diuretic and cause your body to lose water. Tea is not as strong of a diuretic but should be diluted with water.

Avoid energy drinks, which are full of sugar and caffeine. Fruit juices also contain a lot of sugar and should be avoided. If you choose to drink juice, dilute it with as much water as possible.

When to seek medical help

It’s important to seek immediate medical help if you experience symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat exhaustion may cause dizziness, thirst, excessive sweating, weakness or nausea. Heat stroke may cause dizziness, confusion or loss of consciousness.

Other concerning symptoms related to dehydration include being unable to urinate, producing dark-colored urine, breathing rapidly, feeling heaviness in the chest, fever and headaches.

“There isn’t a more important health topic at any stage of our lives than hydration,” explains Chen. “Throughout the day, no matter what we’re doing, it’s important to make hydration a priority. There’s never a wrong time to drink water.”

Your primary care doctor can make personalized recommendations for improving your health and hydration habits. Need a provider? Call us 24/7 at 1-844-235-6997 or make an appointment online.