As a health conscious individual, you probably know the importance of drinking plenty of fluids. It is likely that you sip lemonade on hot days, drink water during tough workouts and pack sports drinks in your child or grandchild’s lunch bag for soccer practice. These are all important steps to squelch the common causes of dehydration, but what about the uncommon causes that catches you unaware?
A wide array of medical issues can lead to dehydration. Considering that our bodies are made up of 50% to 65% water, this element is critical to virtually all our physical functions. Every organ and system of the body depends on water, so a shortage of fluid can naturally lead to serious health consequences. When my patients mention symptoms such as lightheadedness, lack of focus, or fatigue, I go through the following list of 8 surprising causes of dehydration.
1) Winter Weather– Dehydration is typically associated with the heat of summer when our bodies lose a lot of fluid through sweat. Winter, however, can be just as problematic due to very dry air and time spent indoors with dry heat. You may not sweat, but your body is still losing liquid to the dry air in the environment.
2) Irritable Bowel Disease – IBD, as well as its cousins, Crohn’s disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are medical conditions that often cause diarrhea. This results in rapid loss of fluids, although you may not feel thirsty.
3) Incontinence – The aging process can diminish our natural sense of thirst, but if you also suffer from incontinence, you may be reluctant to drink fluids throughout the day. Sipping often in small amounts is essential to avoid becoming dehydrated.
4) Fever – Fevers are caused by too-high body temperatures, and sweating is common. Although people drink frequently when they sweat during exercise, they often fail to consume adequate fluids when they have a fever.
5) Medication – One common side effect of many medicines is increased frequency of urination. You need to compensate for these additional lost fluids by drinking more than usual. Meds that often cause this problem are diuretics, blood pressure drugs, antihistamines and psychiatric drugs.
6) Vomiting – Parents of small children who are always catching one bug or another know to provide liquids to replenish electrolytes and other nutrients that are lost. When many adults get sick, however, they forget about the importance of fluids, perhaps because they don’t get sick very often.
7) Diabetes – If you have diabetes that goes undiagnosed or uncontrolled, you may be at risk for dehydration. Two forms of the disease, diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus, can cause increased thirst and urination.
8 ) Flying – Always drink plenty of water before boarding an airplane. The very dry environment in the aircraft can quickly lead to dehydration if you don’t consume enough fluid. Bring your own bottle of water so you aren’t forced to wait for the drink service, and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which also cause dehydration.
If you suffer from dehydration, I hope this list has given you some clues as to the cause of your thirst. Keep in mind, that if you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. Drink a large glass of water and rest for 30 minutes or so, to allow your body to be replenished. Then keep sipping!
If you suspect a serious medical condition is causing dehydration, see your doctor right away. In the meantime, be sure to consume 5 to 8 glasses of water everyday, and more if you sweat or are exposed to extreme climates. In my next article, I will discuss some of the risks associated with dehydration and go into further detail about how to avoid it.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.