What is Fluid Balance?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Fluid balance is a state where a person is consuming as much liquid as he is eliminating through processes like sweating and urinating. When fluid loss exceeds intake or people drink too much, an imbalance can emerge and may cause health problems. Patients with fluids in balance are said to have “euvolemia.” A number of things can influence rates of consumption and excretion, throwing a patient's body out of homeostasis.

Drinking water encourages fluid balance.
Drinking water encourages fluid balance.

The body eliminates waste fluids by passing them through the kidneys for excretion and uses things like sweating to regulate temperature. As people experience fluid loss, thirst develops to prompt them to drink more to maintain fluid balance. People may develop medical conditions like diarrhea or vomiting, causing such rapid fluid loss that they cannot replace liquids as fast as they eliminate them. Likewise, some conditions can suppress thirst, or conversely make people so thirsty that they drink too much, diluting electrolytes in the body and leading to cell damage.

If fluid balance is off, an IV may be necessary.
If fluid balance is off, an IV may be necessary.

A patient who is not getting enough water can develop symptoms like dark urine, reduced urine output, and an altered level of consciousness. Patients with too much water may become confused and disoriented. Options for treatment can include providing patients with intravenous or subcutaneous fluids, sometimes mixed with electrolytes, to restore them to euvolemia, along with giving patients electrolytes to address a situation where too much fluid is in circulation.

Runners should drink large amounts of water or other beverage to avoid a fluid imbalance.
Runners should drink large amounts of water or other beverage to avoid a fluid imbalance.

This is one aspect of homeostasis, the delicate balance of body systems that keeps people healthy and functioning. If a patient's fluid balance experiences a disruption, a cascading series of results can occur and the patient may become dangerously ill. In hospital environments, where people may be weak and vulnerable to health problems, care providers take special care to monitor fluid intake and output, adjusting the treatment as necessary to compensate for changes in the patient's condition.

People working in hot weather, exercising heavily, and engaging in heavy physical labor need to be careful about fluid balance. They can lose a lot of fluid through sweat and may not be aware of how much they have lost. It is important to drink water to stay hydrated and to stay away from things that might interrupt fluid balance, like alcohol and very salty foods. People who start to experience distress should be brought to a cool location and given small sips of water to see if they recover. If they grow worse, it may be necessary to go to a hospital.

Athletes and others may need to replenish not only water, but also essential salts and electrolytes.
Athletes and others may need to replenish not only water, but also essential salts and electrolytes.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

allenJo

@nony - I’d rather err on the side of caution. I know of one guy who got kidney stones because he wasn’t drinking enough water. It may be true that you don’t need eight glasses but you should drink as much as possible in my opinion.

The worst that can happen is that you will go to the bathroom a lot. Another thing to consider is the electrolyte balance in your body. I bought some packets of electrolyte powder which will turn any glass of water into an electrolyte drink.

It’s quite possible that if you replenish electrolytes you might not need to consume as much water as you think.

nony

@Charred - The truth is that your body will tell you what you need. Ignore the generic advice and just listen to your body’s signals. I was out in my yard mowing in the heat, and thought I could do the whole lawn without stopping.

I began to pant really hard and had to take a ten minute break, and drink some water. I needed fluid replacement at that point and didn’t need anyone to tell me how much to drink. After a few minutes I was able to finish mowing the lawn.

This might all seem obvious but people can really be confused by listening to contradictory medical advice. Your body knows and will tell you – this not only applies to fluid intake but also to what foods to eat too.

Charred

I’ve heard contradictory things about this topic. For example you hear the generic advice that you should drink eight glasses of water a day. Well I did that for several years thinking I was doing my body well.

Then I heard some doctors say that this conventional wisdom was wrong! Drinking that much water causes fluid overload, according to these doctors, and it will affect your kidneys. They point out that your body will rid yourself of all that excess fluid.

They also said that you get water from foods too, like vegetables and fruits, which have some water in them. Now I don’t know who to believe, but just to be safe I’ve reduced my intake to four glasses of water a day.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: