Most of us love the summer months, spending time anywhere the weather’s warm and working up a good sweat. However, long periods of hot, humid climates — or exposure to soaring temperatures in other forms, such as from exercising — can lead to problems associated with an electrolyte imbalance, including dehydration symptoms.
Some surveys show that 60 percent to 75 percent of Americans don’t drink enough water daily. Staying properly hydrated, especially whenever you’re losing fluids, is the very best way to feel your best and also ward off potential heat exhaustion and dehydration symptoms.
Whom does dehydration affect most? Athletes, people who perform manual labor outdoors, young children, those with gastrointestinal issues and the elderly are all especially susceptible to the effects of dehydration.
What do you need to do in order to protect yourself from dehydration and the sometimes-dangerous effects of fluid and electrolyte loss? As you’ll learn, drinking enough water daily, monitoring your thirst and urination, and rehydrating after workouts are all important steps to stave off dehydration symptoms.
What Is Dehydration?
Dehydration occurs when there is a harmful reduction in the amount of water in the body.
There are three main types of dehydration, depending on the specific fluids that are lost:
-Hypotonic or hyponatremic: The loss of electrolytes, mostly sodium
-Hypertonic or hypernatremic: The loss of water
-Isotonic or isonatremic: The loss of both water and electrolytes
Any of these three types of dehydration can be mild, moderate or severe.
-Mild is when the body has lost about 2 percent of its total fluids.
-Moderate is the body losing 5 percent of total fluids.
-Severe dehydration is when the body has lost about 10 percent of its fluids. Severe dehydration, as you can probably guess, is considered a life-threatening emergency.
Here’s what happens in the body when someone becomes dehydrated:
Dehydration is defined as the excessive loss of bodily fluids. In other words, it occurs when the body needs more fluids than are being consumed in order to function normally.
The bodily fluids that are lost and desperately needed during dehydration are either water (H2O), one or more electrolytes, or commonly a combination of both.
Electrolytes are substances that are required at specific levels in the body to carry electrical signals, help keep the pH balanced and maintain critical functions, like heartbeat rhythms and nerve signaling.
The main types of electrolytes found in the body are:
Out of these electrolytes, potassium, sodium and chloride ions are considered the “most essential” electrolytes in regard to hydration.
Some parts of the body are more “electrically wired” than others, so they require higher amounts of these important ions (electrolytes). The body parts that most rely on proper electrolyte balance and hydration — and are therefore especially prone to damage caused by fluid loss — include the brain, central nervous system and muscular system.
Here’s an overview of the role that different electrolytes have and how they can contribute to dehydration:
•Too much sodium can cause a type of dehydration called hypernatremia. High sodium intake is a big concern for people eating a “typical Western diet” or what many refer to as the Standard American Diet, which includes many packaged foods.
•Potassium plays a critical role in regulating heartbeat and muscle functions. A deviation in potassium levels, either higher than they should be or lower than the body requires, can adversely impact the heart rhythm and cause changes in blood pressure. Many people are low in potassium, which is made worse by consuming lots of sodium.
•Chloride helps with balancing other fluids. A significant increase or decrease in chloride levels in the body can lead to serious health problems, including death.
•Magnesium is needed for muscle contractions, proper heart rhythms, nerve functioning, bone-building and strength, reducing anxiety, digestion, and keeping a stable protein-fluid balance. That’s why magnesium deficiency is harmful and can lead to dehydration symptoms.
A variety of hormones also control the activity and concentrations of electrolytes in body. Electrolytes are mainly secreted in the kidneys and adrenal glands. They’re controlled by hormones, including rennin, angiotensin, aldosterone and antidiuretic hormones.
There’s a lot more to dehydration than simply feeling very thirsty. For example, signs of dehydration can also include tension in your neck or jaw, constipation, vomiting, and lingering muscle spasms.