Dehydration is a dangerous state that occurs when your body loses more fluid than you take in. In many cases, this happens when people sweat a lot — because they’re exercising, because it’s hot out — and don’t do enough to replenish with water or sports drinks. For others, though, being chronically dehydrated is a problem; they regularly have too little fluid for their bodies to function effectively, which can cause painful complications both mentally and physically.
Even mild dehydration can affect our mood, mental faculties, and ability to concentrate: low fluid levels make you feel more drowsy and fatigued, make it more difficult to concentrate, lead to irritability and a poor mood, and, some studies suggest, make even simple tasks seem more difficult. When you’re chronically dehydrated, these effects can become frequent and interfere with daily life, even though you may not realize it.
Low fluid levels can also affect bodily processes such as digestion: ongoing dehydration can lead to constipation, which can also become chronic in certain cases. When your body doesn’t have enough water, one of its methods is to draw it from the bowels and digestive tract; this causes stool to dry out, becoming harder and therefore more difficult to pass. The longer this goes on, the worse the problem gets.
Headaches are one of the most common signs of dehydration. Although there are other potential causes, people who suffer from frequent mild to moderate headaches should consider their fluid intake and whether or not a lack of water could be the root of it. Regular dizziness and fainting may also be symptoms.
Involuntary muscle contractions and even seizures can occur when the body doesn’t have enough electrolytes, substances which transmit electrical signals from cell to cell. Electrolyte levels shift with hydration levels, so imbalances can be dangerous; this is more likely to happen to severely dehydrated people, but those who are chronically dehydrated can also be at risk.
Many people simply aren’t aware of how much water they’re drinking throughout the day. If you think you may be regularly dehydrated, make a concentrated effort to monitor your intake — write down how many glasses you drink. You’ve probably heard that eight glasses per day, at eight ounces each, is a good baseline; adjust for other factors such as how much you’re perspiring and whether or not you’re urinating more than usual.
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