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Last updated: June 8, 2021

What Does Dehydration Mean?

Dehydration is a medical condition in which the body loses more water than it can replenish. This excessive loss of fluids prevents organs, cells, and tissues from functioning as they should.

Dehydration is a risk for everyone, but especially workers who require heavy protective clothing, work in hot and humid conditions, or in locations where there is no conveneitn access to clean and cool water.

Safeopedia Explains Dehydration

Common causes of dehydration include excessive sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea. A loss of even 1% of total body water (TBW) can alter the body's ability to remain cool. Prolonged sweating also results in a loss of sodium and other electrolytes that can affect the heart muscle, the skeletal muscles, and the GI tract.

While thirst is a good indicator of dehydration, thirst is often not sensed until dehydration has already set in. Other symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Infrequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea lasting more than 24 hours
  • Irritability and disorientation
  • Inability to keep down fluids
  • Constipation, bloody or black stool
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate

Dehydration can also result in a medical condition called hypernatremia in which the level of sodium in the blood rises due to a lack of water in the body. A dangerous rise in sodium levels can result in coma or even death if not treated promptly.

Causes of Dehydration

While most cases of dehydration are caused by exposure to heat coupled with an inadequate intake of water, it can also happen due to underlying illnesses or their symptoms, including:

  • Continuous vomiting and diarrhea
  • Fever, as the body loses fluid through the skin surface to try to lower the temperature
  • Excessive urination due to certain medications
  • Diabetes, cystic fibrosis, or kidney problems

By the time thirst is felt, the body is about 2% dehydrated, which makes it more difficult to make up for lost fluids. It is best to stay hydrated by:

  • Drinking cool fluids every 15 to 20 minutes
  • Avoiding diuretics like tea, coffee, soda, or alcohol
  • Consuming electrolyte drinks to replenish lost electrolytes
  • Making sure cool water is easily accessible at all times on the worksite

Treating Hydration

The primary treatment for dehydration is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Mild cases can be treated by replenishing the body with water, oral rehydration solutions (ORS), and certain sports drinks. Severe cases require hospitalization and treatment with intravenous (IV) fluids with salt.


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