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Dehydration and Acidosis

By M. Gideon Hoyle ; Updated August 14, 2017

Fluid depletion, also called dehydration, is a condition characterized by decreases in fluid consumption, increases in fluid loss or a combination of these two factors. If left untreated, dehydration can have serious medical consequences, including the development of metabolic acidosis, a condition marked by an excessive production of body acids or impairments in normal acid removal.

Dehydration Causes

In most cases, dehydration is caused by the presence of diarrhea, according to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) lists additional potential causes that include sun overexposure and use of fluid-depleting medications such as diuretics. Typically, your loss of body fluid will be accompanied by a loss of body salts, or electrolytes, such as potassium, sodium and phosphorus. Infants, young children and the elderly are particularly at risk for the development of dehydration.

Dehydration Symptoms

The UMMC lists potential symptoms of dehydration as fatigue, thirst, dry skin, decreases in urine output or frequency, confusion, dry mouth, dry mucous membranes, lightheadedness, dizziness, and increases in breathing rate and heart rate. If your infant develops dehydration, he may experience additional symptoms that include lack of tears when crying, high fever, dry tongue and mouth, irritability, listlessness, abnormally slack skin, lack of a wet diaper for three hours or longer and a sunken appearance in his cheeks, eyes or abdomen.

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Metabolic Acidosis

Severe dehydration can trigger metabolic acidosis, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus. The Merck Manuals list symptoms of mild metabolic acidosis that include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and an increase in breathing rate and depth that occur when your body tries to counter the effects of acidosis by purging carbon dioxide. In some cases, you may also develop mild acidosis without any observable symptoms. If you develop severe metabolic acidosis, you will likely experience drowsiness and extreme weakness, as well as increased nausea and confusion, Merck Manuals note. In its most severe form, the disorder can result in a significant loss of blood pressure, which in turn can trigger shock, followed by coma and even death.

Treatment

You can relieve dehydration-related acidosis by treating the underlying cause of dehydration, Medline Plus reports. Severe dehydration constitutes a medical emergency, UMMC explains, and if you develop this condition, you will be hospitalized and given intravenous fluids to restore your depleted reserves.

Prevention

You can also take a number of steps to prevent the onset of dehydration, the UMMC notes. Begin by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day and matching your fluid intake to your level of physical activity. If necessary, you can also drink sports drinks that contain electrolytes. If at all possible, try scheduling intense physical activity during cooler parts of the day. Use a child rehydration product that contains electrolytes, such as Pedialyte, to protect the health of your infant or child during times of illness or prolonged sun exposure.

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