content of this page

1- Introduction

2- Pathophysiology

3- Symptoms

4- Treatment


Dehydration is a condition that occurs when there is an insufficient amount of fluid in the body to maintain normal physiological functions. It can result from inadequate fluid intake, excessive fluid loss, or a combination of both factors. Dehydration can affect people of all ages and can range from mild to severe, potentially leading to serious health complications if not promptly addressed.


Dehydration occurs when there is an imbalance between the intake and output of water and electrolytes in the body, leading to a decrease in total body water. The pathophysiology of dehydration involves several key mechanisms that disrupt the body’s normal fluid balance:

  1. Causes of Dehydration:

    • Inadequate Fluid Intake: Not drinking enough fluids, especially in hot or dry climates or during periods of increased physical activity.
    • Excessive Fluid Loss: This can occur through various mechanisms:
      • Sweating: During exercise, in hot environments, or due to fever.
      • Vomiting and Diarrhea: These conditions lead to significant loss of fluids and electrolytes.
      • Increased Urination: Certain medications (diuretics), diabetes mellitus (due to increased glucose excretion), and other medical conditions can lead to increased urine output.
  2. Fluid Distribution:

    • The body consists of different compartments where fluids are distributed:
      • Intracellular Fluid (ICF): Fluid inside the cells.
      • Extracellular Fluid (ECF): Fluid outside the cells, including interstitial fluid (between cells) and plasma (in blood vessels).
  3. Regulation of Water Balance:

    • The body maintains water balance through complex mechanisms involving hormonal regulation and kidney function:
      • Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH): Released by the pituitary gland in response to changes in blood osmolality, ADH increases water reabsorption in the kidneys, reducing urine output.
      • Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone System (RAAS): Activated in response to low blood pressure or low blood volume, this system increases sodium and water reabsorption in the kidneys to maintain blood pressure.
      • Thirst Mechanism: Sensation of thirst prompts individuals to drink fluids, helping to maintain fluid balance.
  4. Pathophysiological Changes in Dehydration:

    • Volume Depletion: Loss of both water and electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) from the extracellular fluid compartment leads to decreased blood volume and reduced perfusion to organs and tissues.
    • Electrolyte Imbalance: Depending on the cause of dehydration, electrolyte disturbances can occur, such as hyponatremia (low sodium levels) or hypernatremia (high sodium levels), which further disrupts cellular function and fluid balance.
    • Hemoconcentration: Increased concentration of solutes in the blood due to water loss can lead to higher hematocrit levels and thicker blood, potentially impairing circulation.
  5. Compensatory Mechanisms:

    • Initially, compensatory mechanisms such as increased heart rate (to maintain cardiac output) and vasoconstriction (to redirect blood flow to vital organs) help to mitigate the effects of dehydration.
    • However, prolonged or severe dehydration can overwhelm these compensatory mechanisms, leading to organ dysfunction and potentially life-threatening complications.


Dehydration can manifest with various symptoms depending on its severity. These symptoms typically develop when the body loses more fluid than it takes in, leading to an imbalance in the body’s electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) and affecting overall physiological functions. Here are common symptoms of dehydration:

  1. Increased Thirst: Thirst is often the first sign of mild dehydration. The body’s thirst mechanism is triggered to prompt individuals to drink fluids and restore fluid balance.

  2. Dry Mouth and Lips: Reduced saliva production can lead to dryness in the mouth and lips.

  3. Decreased Urination: In dehydration, urine output decreases as the kidneys attempt to conserve water. Urine may become darker in color and more concentrated.

  4. Dark-colored Urine: Concentrated urine that appears darker yellow or amber is a common indicator of dehydration.

  5. Fatigue and Weakness: Reduced fluid levels can impair normal bodily functions, leading to feelings of tiredness and weakness.

  6. Dizziness or Lightheadedness: Changes in fluid and electrolyte balance can affect blood pressure and circulation, causing dizziness or feeling faint.

  7. Headache: Dehydration can trigger headaches due to reduced blood flow and oxygen to the brain.

  8. Dry Skin: Inadequate fluid intake can lead to reduced skin turgor (elasticity) and dry skin.

  9. Muscle Cramps: Electrolyte imbalances, particularly low sodium and potassium levels, can cause muscle cramps and spasms.

  10. Sunken Eyes: In more severe cases of dehydration, the eyes may appear sunken due to fluid loss from the tissues around the eyes.

  11. Rapid Heart Rate: The heart may beat faster than normal as the body tries to maintain blood pressure and circulation.

  12. Confusion or Irritability: Changes in electrolyte balance, particularly sodium levels, can affect brain function, leading to confusion, irritability, or difficulty concentrating.

  13. Low Blood Pressure: In severe dehydration, blood pressure can drop significantly, causing symptoms like dizziness upon standing.

  14. Decreased Sweating: In some cases of dehydration, particularly in heat exhaustion or heat stroke, the body may stop sweating as a protective mechanism, leading to further overheating.


The treatment of dehydration aims to restore fluid and electrolyte balance in the body to normal levels. The approach to treatment depends on the severity of dehydration and the underlying cause. Here’s a comprehensive guide to treating dehydration:

  1. Oral Rehydration:

    • Mild to moderate dehydration can often be treated effectively with oral rehydration solutions (ORS). These solutions contain a precise balance of electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium, and chloride) and glucose to facilitate absorption of water and electrolytes by the intestines.
    • ORS solutions are available over-the-counter at pharmacies and can be used to replace fluids lost due to sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, or other causes of fluid loss.
    • Examples of ORS solutions include commercial products like Pedialyte, or homemade solutions using clean water, salt, and sugar.
  2. Fluid Replacement:

    • Encourage the individual to drink plenty of fluids, preferably water or ORS, to replace lost fluids. Small, frequent sips are often better tolerated than trying to drink large amounts at once.
    • Avoid beverages that can worsen dehydration, such as caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, soda) or alcohol, as these can increase urine output.
  3. Electrolyte Replacement:

    • Alongside fluids, replacing lost electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) is crucial. This is achieved through ORS solutions or, in severe cases, intravenous (IV) fluids administered by healthcare professionals.
    • Do not give salt tablets unless specifically advised by a healthcare provider, as incorrect dosing can lead to electrolyte imbalances.
  4. Monitor Symptoms:

    • Continuously monitor the individual’s symptoms and signs of hydration status, such as thirst, urine output, and overall improvement in symptoms.
    • Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen, if there is persistent vomiting or diarrhea, or if there are signs of severe dehydration (such as confusion, rapid breathing, or fainting).
  5. Medical Evaluation and Treatment:

    • For severe dehydration or dehydration in vulnerable populations (such as infants, elderly individuals, or those with chronic medical conditions), medical evaluation and treatment may be necessary.
    • In hospital settings, intravenous (IV) fluids may be administered to rapidly restore fluid balance and electrolyte levels.
  6. Prevention:

    • Prevent dehydration by staying hydrated during hot weather or when engaging in physical activity.
    • Encourage adequate fluid intake throughout the day, even if not feeling thirsty.
    • Monitor hydration status in vulnerable populations, including infants, elderly individuals, and those with chronic illnesses.
Scroll to Top