What is Acute Dehydration?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2019
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Acute dehydration is the severe and rapid onset of loss of bodily fluids, most commonly caused by diarrheal diseases. As the body loses water, electrolyte imbalances can develop. Dehydration is treated as a medical emergency and is treated by restoring fluids to the patient's body and monitoring the patient for signs of complications like organ damage. Hospitalization may be required to stabilize the patient, depending on the cause of the dehydration and how severe it became before treatment.

People with diarrheal diseases lose body fluids rapidly as a result of frequent loose stool. Acute dehydration can also be caused by failing to get enough water during exercise or heavy physical labor and by some types of diseases. People with acute dehydration tend to become extremely thirsty. Their skin and mucous membranes may feel dry, and they can develop an altered level of consciousness, decreased urine output, dark urine, fatigue, and confusion.

The immediate treatment for acute dehydration is supplemental fluids. Oral and intravenous fluids can both be used in the management of dehydration. The fluids may include salts to restore the patient's electrolytes and avoid an electrolyte imbalance caused by flooding the body with fresh fluids. In patients who continue to experience fluid loss, such as patients with diarrhea, the fluid supplementation may be kept up throughout the course of the patient's disease to prevent the dehydration from recurring. Fluids can also be given prophylactically to prevent dehydration in patients at risk.


Once the patient has been stabilized with fluids, treatment of the underlying cause of the dehydration can begin. In some cases, just providing fluids should resolve the issue; an athlete who worked too hard in hot weather with not enough water, for example, just needs rest and fluids to recover. In other cases, patients may need things like antibiotics to treat gastrointestinal infections.

Blood testing may be used to check on organ function, looking for damage to structures like the liver and kidneys. Brain damage is also a possibility and once a patient is stable, a neurological assessment can be conducted to look for signs of brain injury. These complications of dehydration may be treatable in some cases and in others may be permanent, requiring adjustments and adaptations for the patient. The longer a patient was allowed to remain dehydrated and the more severe the fluid deprivation, the more likely the possibility of permanent physical damage as a result of acute dehydration, especially if it is paired with conditions like heat stroke.


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Post 7

The first symptoms of dehydration don't seem that important to many people, but then the longer you are dehydrated, the more severe the symptoms get.

First, you are just thirsty, so you take a little water. But that doesn't help much. Then you notice you haven't urinated in a long time. If you do urine, it's a dark yellow. Your eyes might stop tearing up, sweating may stop, and you get a dry mouth.

Muscle cramps, vomiting, heart palpitations, confusion,weakness and coma will come on, if there is no treatment. Some of these symptoms come on quickly and may take you by surprise.

Learn more about the symptoms of dehydration so you can recognize them or prevent them altogether.

Post 6

Over-exertion on a hot day can cause acute dehydration. It was a very hot day in August last year. The football squad at a high school in my town were at a practice.

The coach drilled them hard, and apparently didn't remind them to drink their water or have them take breaks.

About one-quarter of the team became ill and were taken to the hospital and treated for dehydration. About four or five of the players stayed in the hospital for several days for complications from dehydration.

The coach was reprimanded for not taking into consideration the extreme heat in his physical demands on the players.

Dehydration can come on all of a sudden. Athletes, drink plenty of water during exertion in hot weather, or even in cooler weather.

Post 5

@hyrax53- I agree, most people could stand more water. However, the other extreme is hyponatremia, or water intoxication. There are people who drink as much as 6 liters of water a day. This can be really dangerous, because there is a point when you body has taken in too much water, and it affects your insides much like drowning.

The benefits of water are many, but there is such a thing as too much. I was once told that 6-8 8-ounce glasses are more than enough for most people. If you exercise a lot though, you need more.

I would say talking to your doctor about what your water needs are is a good idea if you aren't sure.

Post 4

@burcinc- I have heard the part about thirst as one of the signs and symptoms of dehydration, but then I read something about how that was untrue, so now I'm a little confused, to be honest.

I would say just start training yourself to want more water if you think you are not getting enough. The chances are even if you think you're not dehydrated, drinking a few glasses a day will help you to eat better, think better, and generally function better throughout the day.

Post 3

@manykitties2-- Feeling thirsty is a sign of acute dehydration!

I read from a magazine that when we feel thirsty, we have already lost at least 1% of our body fluid. So feeling thirsty is definitely a sign of acute dehydration. We are supposed to drink water before feeling thirsty and every time we remember to.

You are not treating yourself well by exercising for hours and not having any water. Make sure to take some with you. Maybe you can keep a couple of bottles in your car at all times. It might be easier to grab it and go that way.

Post 2

How can you recognize the signs of acute dehydration caused by exercise? Is it just outright feeling really thirsty, and do all the symptoms appear right away?

I have a bad habit of going to the gym and forgetting to bring a water bottle with me. I don't want to go back home for just one thing so I will usually just suck it up and complete my workout. Often this can take a few hours if I am seriously training. Sometimes I feel really woozy by the time I am finished and wonder if this could be caused by acute dehydration?

Post 1

Having a bad case of the flu can be one of the easiest ways to get acute dehydration. Last year I was really sick for about a week. I couldn't keep anything down, and I was running to the bathroom every few minutes. It wasn't long before I really started to feel unwell and I noticed I was dropping a lot of weight.

I ended up in the hospital after a particularly bad bout of fatigue and confusion that had my family worried. I just felt completely out of it.

The doctors at the hospital hooked me up to an IV and got me hydrated again in a matter of hours. It was amazing to see my skin puff back out. I hadn't realized how bad my dehydration had been until then.

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