How to prevent and treat dehydration

Dehydration results from a lack of water and electrolytes in the body. It should be avoided, as it can cause health risks!


The human body is largely composed of water. In babies, who have little fat tissue and low bone mass, the body is made of at least 73% water. Body fluid mass (in water) then decreases over a person's lifetime. In the elderly, water only makes up roughly 45% of body mass.

In order to preserve the body's water balance, the intake of water and electrolytes (salt minerals) must be at least equal to what has been lost. If the water intake is insufficient during a certain period, or if the loss is too great, the body will become dehydrated. Thirst and elimination of urine are two mechanisms that depict one of the body's main functions: maintaining water balance. This balance is necessary to survival.

Mild dehydration is generally without consequence and can be easily remedied. However, severe dehydration is a medical emergency and a serious threat to health. In the worst cases, it can lead to death.



Several situations, conditions or health problems can lead to dehydration. Here are a some examples:

  • gastroenteritis
  • food poisoning
  • high fever
  • excessive sweating
  • severe sunburn
  • serious burn
  • sun stroke
  • exposure to extreme heat (e.g., heat wave or sauna)
  • intense physical exercise
  • excessive alcohol consumption, and
  • hemorrhage

It is especially important to monitor the signs and symptoms of dehydration in certain individuals, who are particularly vulnerable. This is the case for babies, young children, pregnant women, and sick or elderly people.



Dehydration can be manifested by various signs and symptoms, including the following:

  • thirst (sometimes intense)
  • decreased urine
  • dark urine
  • dryness of the skin, lips and tongue
  • sunken eyes
  • loss of skin elasticity
  • fatigue
  • dizziness, and
  • confusion

In babies, a sunken fontanelle (soft spot located on the head) or the absence of tears may be observed.



The best way to avoid the consequences of dehydration is to take the appropriate measures to prevent or promptly rectify it. The solution must be adapted to the cause; however, an adequate intake of water and electrolytes must invariably be ensured. It is also necessary to manage the factors that are causing the loss of fluids (e.g., diarrhea or vomiting).
Sufficient consumption of fluids generally help to prevent dehydration. Water is often the best choice. However, it does not ensure an optimal intake of electrolytes. This is why it is now recommended to use rehydration solutions instead.

These types of products are available at the pharmacy in the format of oral solutions, popsicles or powder sachets. Some have interesting characteristics, such as added zinc to compensate for the loss of this essential trace element in the case of diarrhea, or added flavours to make consumption more pleasant.

Dehydration often requires medical attention or even hospitalization. Ask the advice of a healthcare professional if a person is at risk or presents mild dehydration. In the case of moderate or serious dehydration, see a doctor immediately.

Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about dehydration.

The pharmacist owners affiliated to the Jean Coutu network are proud to offer you products and advice for your health.


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How to prevent and treat dehydration

Dehydration results from a lack of water and electrolytes in the body. It should be avoided, as it can cause health risks!
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