Dehydration (patient information)

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What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?


When to seek urgent medical care?

Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Dehydration?


What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

Dehydration On the Web

Ongoing Trials at Clinical

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FDA on Dehydration

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Dehydration in the news

Blogs on Dehydration

Directions to Hospitals Treating Dehydration

Risk calculators and risk factors for Dehydration

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Saumya Easaw, M.B.B.S.[2]


Dehydration can be mild, moderate, or severe based on how much of the body's fluid is lost or not replenished. When it is severe, dehydration is a life-threatening emergency

Dehydration means your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should.

What are the symptoms of Dehydration?

What causes Dehydration?

Dehydration can be caused by losing too much fluid, not drinking enough water or fluids, or both.

Your body may lose too much fluids from:

You might not drink enough fluids because of:

Dehydration in sick children is often a combination of refusing to eat or drink anything and losing fluid from vomiting, diarrhea, or fever. Infants and children are more likely to become dehydrated than adults because they weigh less and their bodies turn over water and electrolytes more quickly. The elderly and people with illnesses are also at higher risk.


A physical examination may also show signs of:

  • Blood pressure that drops when you go from lying down to standing
  • Delayed capillary refill
  • Low blood pressure
  • Poor skin turgor-- the skin may not be as elastic as normal and sag back into position slowly when the health care provider pinches it up into a fold (normally, skin springs right back into place)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shock

Tests include:

Other tests may be done to determine the cause of the dehydration (for example, blood sugar level to check for diabetes).

When to seek urgent medical care?

Call 911 if you or your child have the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Light-headedness

Call your health care provider right away if you or your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Blood in the stool or vomit
  • Diarrhea or vomiting (in infants less than 2 months old)
  • Dry mouth or dry eyes
  • Dry skin that sags back into position slowly when pinched up into a fold
  • Fast-beating heart
  • Listlessness and inactiveness
  • Little or no urine output for 8 hours
  • No tears
  • Sunken eyes
  • Sunken soft spot on the top of your infant's head

Call your health care provider if you are not sure whether you are giving your child enough fluids.

Also call your health care provider if:

  • You or your child cannot keep down fluids during an illness
  • Vomiting has been going on for longer than 24 hours in an adult or longer than 12 hours in a child
  • Diarrhea has lasted longer than 5 days in an adult or child
  • Your infant or child is much less active than usual or is irritable
  • You or your child is urinating much more than normal, especially if there is a family history of diabetes or you are taking diuretics

Treatment options

Drinking fluids is usually enough for mild dehydration. It is better to drink small amounts of fluid often (using a teaspoon or syringe for an infant or child), instead of trying to force large amounts of fluid at one time. Drinking too much fluid at once can bring on more vomiting.

Electrolyte solutions or freezer pops are very effective. These are available at pharmacies. Sports drinks contain a lot of sugar and can cause or worsen diarrhea. In infants and children, avoid using water as the primary replacement fluid.

Intravenous fluids and a hospital stay may be needed for moderate to severe dehydration. The health care provider will try to identify and then treat the cause of the dehydration.

Most cases of stomach viruses (also called viral gastroenteritis) tend to get better on their own after a few days. See also: Diarrhea

See also: Heat emergencies

Medications to avoid

Patients diagnosed with dehydration should avoid using the following medications:

  • Iopromide
  • Mannitol
  • Methenamine
    If you have been diagnosed with dehydration, consult your physician before starting or stopping any of these medications.

Where to find medical care for Dehydration?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Condition


Even when you are healthy, drink plenty of fluids every day. Drink more when the weather is hot or you are exercising.

Carefully monitor someone who is ill, especially an infant, child, or older adult. If you believe that the person is getting dehydrated, call your health care provider before the person becomes dehydrated. Begin fluid replacement as soon as vomiting and diarrhea start -- DO NOT wait for signs of dehydration.

Always encourage a person who is sick to drink fluids. Remember that fluid needs are greater with a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. The easiest signs to monitor are urine output (there should be frequent wet diapers or trips to the bathroom), saliva in the mouth, and tears when crying.

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

When dehydration is found and treated quickly, the outcome is usually good.

Possible complications

Untreated severe dehydration may lead to: