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Dehydration in Adults

Exams and Tests

The doctor may perform a variety of simple tests at the examination or send blood or urine samples to the laboratory. Through tests and examination, the doctor will try to identify the underlying cause or causes that led to the dehydration.

  • Vital signs
    • Fever, increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and faster breathing are signs of potential dehydration and other illnesses.
    • Taking the pulse and blood pressure while the person is lying down and then after standing up for 1 minute can help determine the degree of dehydration. Normally, when you have been lying down and then stand up, there is a small drop in blood pressure for a few seconds. The heart rate speeds up, and blood pressure goes back to normal. However, when there is not enough fluid in the blood because of dehydration and the heart rate speeds up, not enough blood is getting to the brain. The brain senses this condition, and the heart beats faster. If you are dehydrated, you feel dizzy and faint after standing up.
  • Urinalysis
    • The color and clarity of urine, the urine specific gravity (the mass of urine is compared with that of equal amounts of distilled water), and the presence of ketones (carbon compounds that signify dehydration) in the urine may all help to indicate the degree of dehydration.
    • Increased glucose in the urine may lead to a diagnosis of diabetes or indicate loss of diabetic control and a cause for the dehydration.
    • Excessive protein in the urine may signal kidney problems.
    • Signs of infections or other diseases, such as liver disease, may be found by urine testing.
  • Blood chemistries
    • The amount of salts (sodium and potassium) and sugar, as well as indicators of kidney function (BUN and creatinine), may be important to evaluate the degree of dehydration and possible causes.
    • A complete blood count (CBC) may be ordered if the doctor thinks an underlying infection is causing the dehydration. Other blood tests, such as liver function tests, may be indicated to find causes of the symptoms.

Dehydration in Adults Treatment - Self-Care at Home

Try to get people who are dehydrated (even those who have been vomiting) to take in fluids in the following ways:

  • Sipping small amounts of water
  • Drinking carbohydrate/electrolyte-containing drinks. Good choices are sports drinks such as Gatorade or prepared replacement solutions (Pedialyte is one example)
  • Sucking on popsicles made from juices and sports drinks
  • Sucking on ice chips
  • Sipping through a straw (works well for someone who has had jaw surgery or mouth sores)

Try to cool the person, if there has been heat exposure or if the person has an elevated temperature, in the following ways:

  • Remove any excess clothing and loosen other clothing.
  • Air-conditioned areas are best for helping return body temperatures to normal and break the heat exposure cycle.
  • If air conditioning is not available, increase cooling by evaporation by placing the person near fans or in the shade, if outside. Place a wet towel around the person.
  • If available, use a spray bottle or misters to spray lukewarm water on exposed skin surfaces to help with cooling by evaporation.
  • Avoid exposing skin to excessive cold, such as ice packs or ice water. This can cause the blood vessels in the skin to constrict and will decrease rather than increase heat loss. Exposure to excessive cold can also cause shivering, which will increase body temperature --the opposite effect you're trying to achieve.

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