What Happens When Your Body Becomes Dehydrated?

By Betty Holt ; Updated August 14, 2017

When the body becomes dehydrated, you start to feel the effects of it both physically and mentally. By the time you feel thirsty, you may be well on your way to dehydration. If you don't replenish your water intake soon, you can start to feel very sick as more of your organs are affected by the lack of water. Prevent dehydration by following some guidelines regarding fluid intake.

The Body and Water

Your body composition is more than two-thirds water. When you lose more fluids than you take in, dehydration occurs. Water makes up 75 percent of muscle tissue and 10 percent of fatty tissue. It transports nutrients within the cells and takes away wastes. It is impossible to sustain life for more than a week without water. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women drink nine cups of water daily and that men consume 13 cups. Increase this amount if you are exercising in hot weather. You can lose as much as a quart of fluid during one hour of exercising, depending on the intensity of exercise and the air temperature.

Symptoms of Dehydration

If your body is dehydrated, it cannot cool itself properly, leading to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. You will begin to feel lethargic and your muscles may cramp up. Your brain won't work properly, and you will feel groggy and slow. Your kidneys won't be able carry away waste products, so toxins will build up in your system, making you feel ill. You will have constipation and your skin will get dry and itchy. You will have difficulty regulating your body temperature and may feel chronically cold.

Causes of Dehydration

One common cause of dehydration is a gastrointestinal illness, because of fluid loss through vomiting and diarrhea. You can also get dehydrated from playing sports or exercising outside in hot, dry weather because you lose fluids through perspiration. Certain diets that emphasize losing "water weight" and use products such as laxatives or diuretics to encourage weight loss can deplete the body's water supply. If you start feeling dizzy or lightheaded, have a dry or sticky mouth, and produce less urine and it is dark in color, you are getting dehydrated and need to replenish fluids.

Avoiding Dehydration

The best way to avoid becoming dehydrated is to drink plenty of fluids, especially in hot, dry or windy weather. Water is the best choice of fluid because of its lack of calories. Wear loose-fitting clothes and a hat on warm days to stay cool -- and sweat less. Take breaks in the shade and drink water. If you are engaging in sports or strenuous outdoor activities, drink fluids before, during and after the activity. If you have a gastrointestinal problem and don't feel like eating or drinking, try to take tiny sips of water or suck on ice pops. Because caffeine is a diuretic, avoid it during long workouts or other situations that cause sweating. See a doctor if you can't hold food or water down, feel weak or dizzy when you stand or have little urine output. Sometimes you may need to take fluids through an IV to help speed up your hydration.

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