You can easily get dehydrated if you have diarrhea or vomiting that doesn’t quickly go away. Dehydration means that your body doesn’t have enough fluid to work the right way.

You can take steps to help prevent this from happening. And you’ll want to know what to do, just in case.

Prevention and Treatment in Adults

With diarrhea or vomiting, you lose fluid quickly. So you need to take in as much fluid as you can.

Drink plenty of water. Exactly how much you need to replenish depends on how much you’ve lost.

If you have certain medical conditions such as heart failure, you may have to limit how much you drink. Ask your doctor how much is OK for you.

If you’re nauseated, it may be hard to keep fluids down. You can sip water, suck on ice, or try a frozen ice pop. These methods will help you stay hydrated without having to drink as much.

Dehydration Symptoms

Being thirsty isn’t the only clue that you’re dehydrated. For adults, other signs include:

  • You pee less often than normal.
  • Your urine is dark-colored.
  • You have muscle cramps.
  • You’re easily fatigued.
  • You feel light-headed, especially when you stand up..
  • You don’t sweat as much as normal.

By the time these symptoms show up, dehydration may be far along. At the first sign of diarrhea or vomiting, you need to start to replace lost water and the salts you need called electrolytes.

Water is just part of the answer. It rehydrates the body. But you’ll still need the salts.

If you have prolonged or severe diarrhea or if you’re vomiting, most experts recommend drinking rehydration solutions -- special fluids that give your body salt and water. You can also drink juice that has some potassium and broth for sodium -- they aren’t substitutes for rehydration solutions, but they may help mild dehydration not become worse.

Your doctor can also prescribe nausea medicine if your nausea and vomiting are severe.

Call your doctor if diarrhea or vomiting lasts for more than 2 days. Call sooner if there’s a fever or pain in the abdomen or rectum, if stool appears black or tarry, or if signs of dehydration appear.

Children’s Symptoms

Kids can lose a lot of fluid in a short time from diarrhea or vomiting. Along with the usual signs of dehydration (listed above), parents of sick infants and children should also watch for:

  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • No tears when crying
  • Tiredness or crankiness
  • Sunken cheeks or eyes
  • Sunken fontanel (the soft spot on the top of a baby's head)
  • Fever or vomiting
  • Not passing as much pee or poop as usual
  • Skin doesn’t bounce back normally when you gently pinch and release it

Call your doctor if you notice these signs or if your child’s diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours. 

If your sick child shows signs of dehydration, give him oral rehydration solutions such as Ceralyte, Infalyte, or Pedialyte. Sports drinks and fruit juices are helpful too, but they don’t have the best balance of water, sugar, and salt. If your child has diarrhea and isn’t vomiting, you can offer small amounts of these drinks often until he starts to make normal amounts of urine again.

Dehydration in Older Adults

Seniors are more likely to get dehydrated because their sense of thirst may not be as sharp as it used to be. Age-related changes in the body’s ability to balance water and sodium can also lead to dehydration. And some may take diuretics or other medicines that affect their body’s balance of water and salt. The most important thing is for elderly people to drink a lot of fluid, but in small amounts and very often, including when they have diarrhea or vomiting.

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