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Hydration in the Heat

Why Keeping Up Your Fluids Is Vital

With the summer months and heat comes a reminder of the importance of hydration. Whether you are walking by the lake, spending the day in the garden or heading to a fitness class, staying hydrated is crucial for your health.

Understanding Dehydration

On average, the human body is 60% water. If you lose more fluids than you take in, you can become dehydrated. That means that there is not enough fluid in your body for it to work as it should.

Dehydration puts stress on your body.
— Steven E. Mayer, MD

Dehydration can be caused from sweating in hot weather or during exercise. It can also occur due to severe vomiting, diarrhea or a fever. Certain medicines such as water pills (diuretics) might make you urinate more, which can also raise your risk.

"Dehydration puts a stress on your body that you don't need," says Steven Mayer, MD, a Northwestern Medicine Sports Medicine physician. "With that kind of stress, any number of things can go wrong."

  • Mild dehydration can cause weakness, confusion or muscle cramps.
  • Severe cases of dehydration can lead to kidney damage, brain damage and even death.

Symptoms of Dehydration

Symptoms of dehydration can vary between children and adults. Here are some common signs to watch for:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Darker urine or decreased need to urinate

If dehydration goes untreated and becomes severe, you may experience fainting, difficulty thinking and even organ damage. Severe dehydration requires emergency medical care.

How to Avoid Dehydration

The best way to prevent dehydration is the most obvious: drink plenty of liquids.

"There's nothing more crucial than having water to be able to live and to survive," says Dr. Mayer. "Regular hydration allows your body to work and function properly."

While water is always best to consume, juice or frozen pops can also help combat dehydration.
"Always drink with each meal, and always have water available to you," says Dr. Mayer. "You'll use it if it's available. If you don't have it or don't plan for it, you might go a few hours without drinking."

Liquids that contain caffeine or alcohol should be avoided when you are trying to rehydrate; these drinks will cause you to urinate more, increasing your risk for more fluid loss.

If you get behind in your hydration routine, it can be difficult to "catch up," says Dr. Mayer. Staying hydrated with a busy lifestyle can be difficult; preparation is key to make sure you are giving your body what it needs.

"Even if you're getting a little exercise here and there, you need to stay hydrated," he says. "With everything you do, you'll feel better."

Better Care at Northwestern Medicine