What is dehydration?

Dehydration is a loss of too much fluid from your body. The human body is about two-thirds water and needs the water and other fluids to work well. In dehydration, you may lose both water or minerals (salts) or both. Your body needs the right balance of minerals to keep your heart, kidneys, and other organs working normally. In severe cases of dehydration, the loss of fluid and electrolyte imbalance can cause you to get very sick and become life-threatening.

Dehydration can be caused by:

  • Severe diarrhea or vomiting
  • Too much sweating from fever, strenuous exercise, or being out in very hot weather
  • Increased urination, which is often caused by diabetes or taking medicines that help the body get rid of extra fluid (diuretics)

People who are more at risk for dehydration are:

  • Babies less than 1 year old
  • Older adults
  • People with chronic diseases
  • People who live in or work or exercise outside in hot weather
  • People who live, work or exercise at high altitude
  • Athletes who train for and participate in events that take hours or days to complete

The common symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Thirst and a dry, sticky mouth
  • Headache, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • Decreased urine or urine color that is dark yellow or amber
  • Dry or shriveled skin

What can I expect in the hospital?

You may need to stay in the hospital because your dehydration is severe, you need close monitoring, or you have a medical condition which makes dehydration or treating it a more serious problem.

Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:


  • You will be checked often by the hospital staff.
  • Your blood pressure, heart rate and temperature will be checked regularly.
  • A cardiac (heart) monitor may be used to keep track of your heart rate and rhythm.
  • Your fluid intake will be monitored closely by keeping track of everything you eat and drink and any IV fluids you receive.
  • Your fluid output will be monitored closely by keeping track of the amounts of urine, diarrhea, vomiting or stomach fluids you produce.


Testing may include:

  • Physical exam to look for the cause of your dehydration and check how severe it is
  • Tests of the blood, urine, stool, or vomit to check for viruses, bacteria or parasites
  • Blood or urine tests to check fluid and electrolyte levels
  • Blood, urine, or other tests to monitor how well your organs are functioning


The treatment for dehydration depends on its cause, how severe it is, your symptoms, how well you respond to treatment, your overall health, and any complications you may have.

  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for fluids to be given directly into your blood and to give you medicine, if needed.
  • You may have a tube put through your nose down into your stomach, called a nasogastric or NG tube. The tube may be used to give fluids or medicine.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine or other therapy to:
    • Replace fluid or minerals
    • Treat the cause of any infection
    • Treat vomiting or diarrhea
    • Treat the cause of the dehydration, such as controlling your blood sugar

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Confusion
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness, especially when you stand up
    • Fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat
    • Headache
    • Increased thirst and dry mouth
    • Decreased urination
    • Muscle cramps or spasms
    • Vomiting or diarrhea
    • Belly pain
    • Seizure or convulsions
    • Tiredness or weakness
    • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Ask questions about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on many things, such as your general health, why you are in the hospital, and the treatment you need. Talk with your provider about how long your stay may be.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-12
Last reviewed: 2015-01-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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