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What is dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when the body's water loss exceeds intake. This generally occurs due to inadequate water intake, certain medical conditions, or excessive water loss from sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. Symptoms of mild dehydration include thirst, headaches, dry lips, lack of concentration. Mild dehydration can occur before you notice any symptoms. Severe dehydration is a serious medical condition that may be life-threatening. Signs of severe dehydration include rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, dizziness or fainting, listlessness, not urinating, and sunken areas around the eyes.

What are common symptoms of dehydration?

Since it’s easy for our body to lose water through everyday activities like sweating and urination, mild dehydration isn’t uncommon. The most common dehydration symptoms may simply register as an annoyance, like thirst, headaches, and dry lips. It’s easy to ignore these symptoms or attribute them to something other than dehydration.

As you get more dehydrated, you may start to notice more serious symptoms, like confusion, dark-colored urine, shriveled skin, or a rapid heartbeat. You may even go into shock or faint.

As soon as you notice any of the mild symptoms, drink water. If you have mild dehydration, this should help you feel better quickly.

How do you test for dehydration?

If you visit your doctor, they can generally diagnose you with dehydration based on the symptoms you report, and your physical appearance. If they’re unsure, they may order a blood test or a urinalysis, which can test for factors that often accompany moderate to severe dehydration like imbalanced electrolyte levels and poor or impaired kidney and bladder function.

Once your doctor has identified dehydration, they’ll either recommend that you treat it yourself at home (for mild cases), or check into a hospital for more severe cases that need to be treated with intravenous fluids.

Does coffee dehydrate you?

One of the most common questions that regular coffee drinkers ask is: “Does coffee dehydrate you?” The answer is no. The caffeine in coffee and tea is a mild diuretic, so people who drink it may find that they need to urinate more often after consumption. However, since the effect is mild in small quantities, it’s unlikely to be a major factor in becoming dehydrated.

If you’re having more than five cups of coffee a day, the diuretic effect may compound and cause problems. However, if you drink less than that on a daily basis you don’t need to worry.

Can dehydration cause fever?

If you have severe dehydration, you may experience fever-like symptoms and body chills. This is because your body can’t regulate its own temperature. This is a particularly common symptom among people who have dehydration along with heat exhaustion.

Related Terms

Sodium

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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