To work well, the body needs a certain amount of fluid and things called electrolytes. Water is lost through sweat, urine, bowel movements, and breathing. Drinking and eating helps replace fluids and electrolytes. Dehydration can happen if:

  • Too much fluid is lost
  • Not enough fluids are taken in
  • A mix of both
  • Severe diarrhea and vomiting are the most common causes of dehydration in young children.

    Risk Factors

    Dehydration is more common in young children and older adults. Older adults have less water in their bodies. Health problems or medicine can further reduce the fluids in their bodies.

    Other things that may raise the risk of dehydration are:

    • Vomiting and diarrhea
    • High fever
    • Being in the heat and sun
    • Too much working out or sweating while playing a sport
    • Medicines, including diuretics and laxatives
    • Urinating more often
    • Taking in less fluids due to movement problems, mental health or memory problems, or decreased ability to sense thirst
    • Fluid loss caused by certain health issues such as diabetes, kidney disease, burns , and infection



    Symptoms vary depending on how bad the dehydration is. A person may have:

    • Dry mouth or feel thirsty
    • Problems making tears, such as when crying
    • Weakness or lightheadedness
    • Not urinating (peeing) as often
    • Concentrated urine—darker color, stronger odor
    • Wrinkled or dry skin or parched, cracked lips
    • Drowsiness
    • Nausea
    • Irritability and confusion
    • Fever
    • Rapid heartbeat or fast breathing
    • Weight loss
    • Signs in infants are a sunken soft spot in the skull or no wet diapers for 3 or more hours
    Soft Spot in Infant Skull
    Infant Soft Spot
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Dehydration can be very serious and life threatening. A person may need medical care right away.


    The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Urine and blood tests may be done to look for the cause.



    The goal of treatment is to replace the fluids in the body. The cause of the dehydration will also be treated if it is known.

    Treatment may include:

    Fluid Replacement

    Mild or moderate dehydration can be treated by taking in more fluids. This may be done through:

    • Drinking small amounts of an oral rehydration solution during the day.
    • Drinking plain water or salty liquids like broth for adults.

    Drinks with alcohol and caffeine should be avoided. They can make the fluid loss worse.

    IV fluids will be needed for severe dehydration. It will quickly replace fluids.

    Medicine may be given if vomiting or diarrhea are causing severe fluid loss.


    To help reduce the chances of dehydration:

    • Drink lots of non-caffeinated fluids such as water during the day.
    • Drink in small sips during the day if you are sick.
    • Drink fluids regularly while working out or when outdoors on a hot day. Stop often for fluid breaks.

    This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

    Edits to original content made by Denver Health.