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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Sep 3, 2023.

What is dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition that develops when your body does not have enough fluid. You may become dehydrated if you do not drink enough water or lose too much fluid. Fluid loss may also cause loss of electrolytes (minerals), such as sodium.

What increases my risk for dehydration?

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or fever
  • Being in the sun or heat for too long
  • Sweating while playing sports
  • Diseases, such as stroke, diabetes, or infections
  • Medicines that cause you to lose water and salt, such as diuretics (water pills)
  • Older age with decreased ability to sense thirst or to urinate

What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration?

  • Dry eyes or mouth
  • Increased thirst
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Urinating little or not at all
  • Tiredness or body weakness
  • Headache, dizziness, or confusion
  • Irregular or fast breathing, fast or pounding heartbeat, and low blood pressure
  • Sudden weight loss

How is dehydration diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and check your breathing and heartbeat. He or she will look at your eyes, skin, mouth, and tongue. He or she will ask you how much liquid you have been drinking, and how much you are urinating. Tell him or her if you have been vomiting or have diarrhea. Blood and urine tests are used to check your electrolyte levels. The tests may show the cause of your dehydration, such as infection or diabetes. They may also show if your kidneys are working correctly.

How is dehydration treated?

  • Oral liquids:
    • If you are mildly to moderately dehydrated, you may need an oral rehydration solution (ORS). This drink contains the right amount of salt, sugar, and minerals in water to replace body fluids. Ask your healthcare provider where you can get an ORS.
    • Drink an ORS in small amounts if you have been vomiting. If you vomit, wait 30 minutes and try again. Ask healthcare providers how much ORS you need when you are dehydrated and how often you should drink it.
    • A sports drink is not the same as an ORS. Do not drink sports drinks without asking your healthcare provider.
    • Do not drink soft drinks or fruit juices. These can make your condition worse.
  • You may receive fluid through an IV. Electrolytes may also be included in the fluid.
  • Hypodermoclysis gives your body a large amount of water quickly. The water is given into the deepest layer of your skin. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about hypodermoclysis.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What can I do to prevent dehydration?

  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids that contain water, sugar, and minerals can help your body hold in fluid and help prevent dehydration. Drink liquids throughout the day, not just when you feel thirsty. Men should drink about 3 liters (13 eight-ounce cups) of liquid each day. Women should drink about 2 liters (9 eight-ounce cups) of liquid each day. Drink even more liquid if you will be outdoors, in the sun for a long time, or exercising.
  • Stay cool. Limit the time you spend outdoors during the hottest part of the day. Dress in lightweight clothes.
  • Keep track of how often you urinate. If you urinate less than usual or your urine is darker, drink more liquids.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a seizure.
  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.
  • You are extremely sleepy, or another person cannot wake you.
  • You become dizzy or faint when you stand.
  • You are not able to urinate.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have a fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Your hands or feet are cold, or your face is pale.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have trouble drinking liquids because you are vomiting.
  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • You have a fever.
  • You feel very weak or tired.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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