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What are Oral Rehydration Salts?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Oral rehydration salts are a mixture of salts used in rehydration therapy. This type of therapy is offered to patients with vomiting and diarrhea to replenish water lost over the course of their illness. Oral rehydration therapy is so simple that it can be performed at home, although it is also offered in medical facilities.

When people experience severe diarrhea in particular, their bodies lose a lot of water, and the electrolyte balance of the body also becomes disturbed. In the developing world, one of the leading causes of death, especially among children, is diarrheal diseases. This could easily be prevented by ensuring that patients were properly hydrated. While hydration can be accomplished with intravenous or subcutaneous infusion of fluids, it can also be done by mouth, and offering fluids by mouth is easier that setting up an infusion.

Just giving water, however, is not enough, because pure water will not address the loss of salts. As a result, oral rehydration salts are needed. A simple salt and sugar solution will keep the balance of salts in the body stable and help the patient absorb the water. Numerous companies manufacture packaged oral rehydration salts which include glucose, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and trisodium citrate in carefully balanced amounts. These salts can be added to water and given to the patient.

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It is important to make sure that the water used to administer oral rehydration salts is clean. If the water is contaminated, the liquid will deliver a payload of bacteria which could make the patient more sick. In areas where water is not routinely processed before delivery, the water can be boiled to make it safe to drink. At home, preparations such as soups can be used to provide oral rehydration therapy, and they may be more accepted by the patient than a simple mixture of water and oral rehydration salts.

Many people in the developed world are familiar with the advice to drink lots of fluids, especially fluids like chicken or vegetable soup, when they are sick. The same advice also holds true in the developing world, where the administration of fluids at home can prevent a patient from becoming so sick that a hospital visit is required.

The widespread adoption of oral rehydration salts has made a significant difference in the mortality rate in many developing nations. While there are numerous health challenges in these regions, preventing deaths from diarrheal diseases is a good start. Other measures which can be used to prevent such deaths include better sanitation, to reduce the spread of such diseases, and vaccination, to help patients resist diarrheal disease.

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