Are you drinking enough water?
by Aynsley Anderson
You may wonder if you’ve been drinking enough water, especially in the summer heat. There’s a lot of confusing advice out there about how much you really need. The truth is that most healthy bodies are very good at regulating water. Elderly people, young children and some special cases—like people taking certain medications—need to be a little more careful.
What you need to know
Water is involved in all body processes. You need the proper amount for those processes to work correctly. The body regulates how much water it keeps so it can maintain levels of the various minerals it needs to work properly. But every time you breathe out, sweat, urinate or have a bowel movement, you lose some fluid. When you lose fluid, your blood can become more concentrated. Healthy people compensate by releasing stores of water, mostly from muscles. Then, of course, you get thirsty. That’s your body’s way of telling you it needs more water.
At a certain point, however, if you lose enough water, your body can’t compensate. Eventually, you can become dehydrated, meaning that your body doesn’t have enough fluid to work properly. Any healthy person can become dehydrated on hot days, when you’ve been exercising or when you have a disease or condition like diarrhea, in which you can lose a lot of fluid very quickly. But dehydration is generally more of a problem in the elderly, who can have a decreased sensitivity to thirst, and very young children who can’t yet tell their parents when they’re thirsty.
How much water does your body need?
A common recommendation is to drink six or eight, eight-ounce glasses of water or other fluid every day. But some adults may need more or less, depending on how healthy they are, how much they exercise, and how hot and dry the climate is. You may sometimes need to drink more water than usual if you:
- Exercise intensely, especially in a hot climate
- Are sick with the flu, or have a health problem like a urinary tract infection
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
It is important to pay attention to your body. You may be dehydrated if you:
- Are thirsty
- Urinate less often than usual
- Have dark-colored urine
- Have dry skin
- Feel tired or like you are dizzy or may faint
Signs of dehydration in babies and young children include:
- A dry mouth and tongue
- Crying without tears
- No wet diapers for three hours or more
- A high fever
- Being unusually sleepy or drowsy
If you suspect dehydration, drink small amounts of water over a period of time. Taking too much all at once can overload your stomach and make you throw up. For people exercising in the heat and losing a lot of minerals in sweat, sports drinks can be helpful. But avoid any drinks that have caffeine.
The best way to deal with dehydration is to prevent it. Make sure to drink enough water in situations where you might become dehydrated. For those caring for small children or older people with conditions that can lead to dehydration, be sure to prompt the person to drink fluids and remind them often.
You may wonder if you’ve been drinking enough water. There’s a lot of confusing advice out there about how much you really need. To learn more, check out the following resources:
Aynsley Anderson, MA, RN, is Community Education Coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.