By: Dr. Stephanie Flaherty, Jefferson Health New Jersey
While the autumn season is upon us, there are still plenty of hot days in September. That mean an increased risk of dehydration, which can be very dangerous.
Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, meaning your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don’t replace these lost fluids, you become dehydrated. Anyone can become dehydrated – but the condition is especially dangerous for young children and older adults. But remember, dehydration can occur in any age group if you don’t drink enough water during hot weather – especially if exercising.
You can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids – water is best – but severe dehydration needs immediate medical treatment.
So, how much water is enough in warm weather? More than you might think. In fact, the U.S. National Research Council recommends 8-to-10 eight-ounce glasses a day. Another way for adults to calculate it is to divide your body weight in half (using pounds) then drink that many ounces daily.
Importantly, thirst isn’t always a reliable early indicator of the body’s need for water. Many people, especially older adults, don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. That’s why it’s important to increase your water intake during hot weather, whether you feel thirsty or not.
Dehydration can lead to serious medical issues, including:
Heat injury – ranging in severity from mild heat cramps to heat exhumation and potentially life-threatening heatstroke
Urinary and kidney problems – including urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and even kidney failure (Note: yellow or darker urine can be a sign of dehydration).
Seizures –Electrolytes — such as potassium and sodium — help carry electrical signals from cell to cell. If electrolytes are out of balance, these “messages” can become scrambled, causing involuntary muscle contractions, and sometimes a loss of consciousness.
Low blood volume shock – a sometimes life-threatening complication that can result in a severe drop in blood pressure and the amount of oxygen in your body.
Think of staying hydrated as a lifestyle change: take a full bottle of water with your everywhere you go – even if that’s just working from home at your dining room table. Drink water with every meal. Start and end your day with a glass of water. Making these kinds of slight changes can help ensure you won’t risk becoming dehydrated.
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for social distancing and wearing of a mask around others, it’s still important to drink up, especially in warm weather. In other words, you can step away from others, drink plenty of water, and then put your mask back on. That way, you’re taking care of yourself — and others, too.
Dr. Stephanie Flaherty is a Jefferson Health Family Medicine physician, board certified by the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners. At West Berlin Primary & Specialty Care, Dr. Flaherty provides patients — newborn through adult — with individualized care for prevention and treatment of acute and chronic conditions. She can be reached at 856-557-6000.
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