Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Dehydration facts
- What is dehydration?
- What causes dehydration?
- Dehydration pictures
- What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration?
- What about dehydration in children?
- How is dehydration diagnosed?
- How is dehydration treated?
- Can I treat dehydration at home?
- What are the complications of dehydration?
- Can dehydration be prevented?
How is dehydration treated?
As is often the case in medicine, prevention is the important first step in the treatment of dehydration. (Please see the home treatment and prevention sections.)
Fluid replacement is the treatment for dehydration. This may be attempted by replacing fluid by mouth, but if this fails, intravenous fluid (IV) may be required. Should oral rehydration be attempted, frequent small amounts of clear fluids should be used.
Clear fluids include most things you can see through.
- Water (please note that water alone is not necessarily safe to use in infants and can lead to significant electrolyte problems. For this reason, Pedialyte or other balanced electrolyte solutions should be used.
- Clear broths
- Other replacement fluids that may contain electrolytes (Pedialyte, Gatorade, Powerade, etc.)
Decisions about the use of intravenous fluids depend upon the health care professional's assessment of the extent of dehydration, the ability for the patient to drink fluids by mouth, and the ability for the patient to recover from the underlying cause.
The success of the rehydration therapy can be monitored by urine output. When the body is dry, the kidneys try to hold on to as much fluid as possible, urine output is decreased, and the urine itself is concentrated. As treatment occurs and if it is successful, the kidneys sense the increased amount of fluid within the intravascular space and urine output increases.
Medications may be used to treat underlying illnesses and to control fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Can I treat dehydration at home?
Dehydration occurs over time. If it can be recognized in its earliest stages, and if its cause can be addressed, home treatment may be beneficial and adequate.
Steps a person can take at home to prevent severe dehydration include:
- Individuals with vomiting and diarrhea can try to alter their diet and use medications to control symptoms to minimize water loss. Clear fluids are recommended as the diet of choice for the first 24 hours, with gradual progression to a regular diet as tolerated.
- Loperamide (Imodium) may be considered to control diarrhea. If the affected individual has a fever, or if there is blood in the diarrhea, medical advice should be obtained before administering medications to control diarrhea.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and others) may be used to control fever. Ibuprofen may irritate the stomach and cause nausea and vomiting, so it should be used with caution in patients who already have these symptoms.
- Fluid replacements may be attempted by small, frequent amounts of clear fluids (see clear fluids information in previous section). The amount of fluid required to maintain hydration depends upon the individual's weight. The average adult needs between 2 and 3 liters of fluid per day.
If the person becomes confused or lethargic; if there is persistent, uncontrolled fever, vomiting, or diarrhea; or if there are any other specific concerns, then medical care should be accessed.
Emergency medical system (EMS) or 911 should be activated for any individual with altered mental status - confusion, lethargy, or coma.
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