Dehydration, in simple terms, means lack of water in the body. Our body is made up of around 60% of water and is essential for almost every bodily function that ranges from breathing to digestion. Water can be lost from the body due to excessive sweating on a hot summer day or exercising a lot. Even fever or excessive urination can cause a drop in the overall level of water in the body. You may show signs of dehydration even if there is a slight drop in the fluid balance in the body.
Dehydration can be dangerous. However, there are signs that can help you know if you are dehydrated or not. So if you feel you are dehydrated or if there is not enough water content in the body, it’s time to up your water intake and consult your doctor to ensure proper fluid balance. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of dehydration in adults.
1. Dry and rough skin
One of the common and most visible physical indicator that your body lack water is the changes in the skin. Loss of water through skin either through sweating or exposure to cold weather can cause the skin to become dry. Other common changes in the skin that can indicate dehydration include rough and flaky skin, cracked skin or lips, or flushing (redness) of the skin.
2. Dark-colored urine
The color of the urine can easily tell whether a person is dehydrated or not. People who are suffering from moderate to severe dehydration have dark-yellow colored urine whereas those with normal levels of hydration have light-yellow colored urine. Moreover, the frequency of urination is also a key sign of dehydration. When dehydrated, you might urinate less than normal. In severe cases of dehydration, you may not even pee. This is a sign of concern that indicates you should go to a doctor immediately.
3. Dry mouth and bad breath
Due to the lack of sufficient amounts of water in the body, your mouth might become dry, which is a sign of dehydration. Moreover, it can also cause bad breath. This is because the body needs water to make saliva and lack of water cause less saliva in the mouth. This, in turn, can trigger the growth of bacteria, which cause foul odor leading to bad breath. Ensuring you maintain proper oral hygiene and drink lots of water can help you to bad breath as well as dehydration.
4. Excessive thirst
Excessive thirst can be a symptom of many health conditions which also includes dehydration. When you feel thirsty, it is a sign that your body needs more water. This is usually seen during summers when you go out in the hot weather. As soon as you reach your home or office, you tend to quickly grab some water or any fluids to restore your fluid balance. This is because you have lost water due to sweating under the sun. So if you are feeling thirsty off late, it is best to go to a doctor to know the exact cause as it could also be due to diabetes.
Most people associate a headache with hunger or stress. However, dehydration can also lead to a headache, even in mild cases. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition revealed that dehydration of just 1.36 per cent in women triggered a headache. This could be attributed to the fact that lack of water in the body can disturb the fluid-electrolyte balance in the body, which in turn can lower your pressure, thereby leading to a headache. If a headache fails to show improvement even after drinking water or occurs more often than not, then it is a good idea to fix an appointment with your doctor.
Are you feeling too tired even after taking a sufficient amount of rest? Do you wake up tired even after getting your daily dose of sleep? If yes, then it could be a sign of dehydration. Studies in men have shown that dehydration causes lethargy, tiredness, and fatigue which might be due to low blood pressure. Ensuring proper hydration can help you to increase your energy levels and make you feel fresh.
7. Lack of concentration and memory
The lack of sufficient amount of water in the body can also impact your brain function. Studies have clearly established the link between mild dehydration and impaired cognitive function. The study which was done in men showed that the participants made more mistakes in vision and memory tests when dehydrated. Dehydration not only affects your mood but also leads to poor concentration, alertness, and memory reveals a 2012 research study. Hence, ensure you maintain an optimal level of hydration to prevent symptoms of dehydration.
It goes without saying that the lack of water in the body can make it difficult to pass stools. You may have fewer bowel movements and your stools might appear dry or look like small lumps. If you are already suffering from constipation, dehydration can further worsen it. So do not ignore constipation as this sign of dehydration can further impair your bowel movements and lead to severe health complications, if left unattended.
The signs of dehydration in babies and toddlers  are a diaper which is dry for more than three hours, crying without tears, dry mouth, high fever, sunken eyes, greyish skin, unusual sleepiness, and fussiness. These symptoms indicate that you need to up your intake of water to restore fluid balance and if the symptoms fail to improve, consult a doctor without fail.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
1. Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutr Rev. 2010 Aug;68(8):439-58.
2. Armstrong LE, Ganio MS, Casa DJ, et al. Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women. J Nutr. 2012 Feb;142(2):382-8.
3. Ganio MS, Armstrong LE, Casa DJ, et al. Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men. Br J Nutr. 2011 Nov;106(10):1535-43.
4. Dehydration and diarrhea. Paediatr Child Health. 2003 Sep;8(7):459-68.