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Dehydration occurs when your body uses more fluids than you consume. If you do not consume enough fluids this can affect the bodies functions and it upsets the balance of minerals, salts and sugars in your body. Dehydration has an effect on proper nutrition as the correct fluids are needed to allow the body to function correctly.

The warning signs of dehydration include:

  • Feeling thirsty or lightheaded
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Dark and strong smelling urine
  • Passing small amounts of infrequent urine less than 3-4 times a day
  • Infrequent passing of urine
  • Headaches and a variety of other signs and symptoms.

Dehydration is caused by not drinking enough fluids to replace the fluids that have been used by the body. Dehydration can also happen when you have illnesses like vomiting, diarrhoea, sweating from a fever or exercising in hot conditions.

Dehydration can affect anyone but babies and infants are particularly at risk as they have a low body weight and they are sensitive to even a little fluid loss.

The other main group who are particularly affected are the elderly as they may become less aware that they are becoming dehydrated and do not realise they need to keep drinking. There was a trial where a group of elderly people were given 500ml more fluids and this showed a 50% reduction in slips, trips and falls, a reduced rate of urinary tract infections and a reduction in laxative use.

Dehydration also affects people with long-term health conditions such as diabetes or alcoholism and athletes who lose large amounts of fluids through sweat.

If someone is dehydrated, they need to drink plenty of fluids. This can be water, semi-skimmed milk, diluted squash or fruit juice. Avoid drinks like caffeine and fizzy drinks. If they are vomiting, get them to sip small amounts regularly.

Where dehydration is chronic or ongoing, it can affect kidney function and cause kidney stones. It can also lead to liver, joint and muscle damage, cholesterol problems and constipation.

If left untreated, dehydration can lead to seizures, brain damage and ultimately death.