Tell-tale signs of dehydration and how to treat it

Five-month-old Richard Mugabo is on drip. He tosses helplessly. His mother says his condition first presented with a fever and vomiting.
The human body needs regular supply of water 
for physiological processes. / Internet photo.
The human body needs regular supply of water for physiological processes. / Internet photo.

Five-month-old Richard Mugabo is on drip. He tosses helplessly. His mother says his condition first presented with a fever and vomiting. “My baby had a high temperature and could not breastfeed. When I took him to the clinic, the doctor diagnosed dehydration and put him on drip,” she says.

Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. 

 

Since water makes up a large percentage of blood, vital processes, such as one’s immune system throughout the body functions can be impaired without reliable supply.

 

What causes dehydration?

 

According to Dr. Vincent Mutabazi the biggest cause of dehydration is diarrhoea, but there are also other instigators like vomiting. 

“In such conditions, when the vast majority of people remain chronically dehydrated, long-term health conditions can develop over time,” he explains.

A lack of water is a choice for many as they often choose more flavourful alternatives. Unknowingly, people become further dehydrated when they take alcohol, caffeinated drinks and sugar-laced water replacements. 

“Water is lost in form of vapour during the breathing process, sweating and urination. Salt is also usually lost in the process,” remarks Dr.Yvan Butera. 

How to tell that one is dehydrated

Abnormal thirst and dry lips are some of the commonest indications of dehydration, according to Dr. Butera . 

“Feeling lazy and tired yet you haven’t done anything is another symptom,” he remarks. 

Mild to moderate dehydration can also cause headaches, diminish memory and impair one’s ability to think clearly. 

It might sound counterintuitive, but if your body is severely dehydrated you may experience symptoms like fever or even chills. Fever can be especially dangerous, so be sure to seek immediate medical help if your fever rises over 101°F. 

Since saliva has antibacterial properties in it, excessive dehydration can prevent your body from making enough which causes bad breath in most individuals.

“If you’re not producing enough saliva in the mouth, you can get bacteria overgrowth and one of the side reactions of that is bad breath from chronic dehydration,” says Audrey Mutabazi, a dietician with Gasp, a food science consultancy based in Nyarutarama. 

Dealing with the problem

If you’re a healthy adult, you can usually treat mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids, such as water or a sports drink. Get immediate medical care if you develop severe signs and symptoms such as extreme thirst, a lack of urination, shriveled skin, dizziness and confusion.

“The vast majority of people get their only water intake through the foods that they eat. It’s important to avoid high-protein diets if one does not drink water or eat enough fruits and vegetables. Protein has significantly less water, especially highly processed and dried meats,” says Dr Cory Couillard, who works in collaboration with the World Health Organisation’s Goals of Disease Prevention and Control. 

When you’re dehydrated, you lose sugar and salts, as well as water. Drinking a rehydration solution will enable you to re-establish the right balance of body fluids. The solution should contain a mixture of potassium and sodium salts, as well as glucose or starch.

There are several different rehydration products available over the counter from pharmacies or on prescription from your doctor, including solutions that are suitable for infants and children.

“Dehydration caused by heat exposure, too much exercise or decreased water intake is generally easy to manage,” says Dr. Emile Musoni from Kibagabaga hospital.

While it may be difficult to drink eight glasses of water per day, water does play a significant role in maintenance of health and the prevention of disease.

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