Chronic Dehydration Symptoms

By Dr. VikMBBS, MRCP(GB), PhD

Chronic dehydration symptoms

By weight, our bodies are 60% to 70% water. There are numerous physiological bodily processes that require water in order to function and maintain. Water is also needed just to maintain normal homoeostasis.

Despite our the body’s utter dependence on water, many of us don’t consume enough, and are living in a dehydrated state. We can then develop some of the symptoms of dehydration, including tiredness and constipation.

In this article, we will briefly review the symptoms of chronic dehydration, giving special attention to how dehydration is linked to constipation.



Chronic dehydration

When dehydration occurs over a prolonged period of time, it is called chronic dehydration.

Chronic dehydration can cause a variety of different physical symptoms.

Commonly, patients experience an increase in thirst. However, an individual may ignore this, to the detriment of their health. As dehydration worsens, the patient’s urine will become dark, due to an increased concentration of the urine.


9 Symptoms of Chronic Dehydration

1. Constipation

Chronic dehydration is a common cause of constipation. In fact, not drinking enough water is considered one of the primary reasons why individuals develop constipation.


How dehydration causes constipation

The body utilizes fluid that is consumed to normal cell structure and vital organ function. Some of it remains within the bowel and adds bulk to stool.

Ideally, stool should be composed of 75% to 80% water. The remainder is food residue, fiber and bacteria.

Both fiber and bacteria in stool serve as a sponge to hold moisture in the stool. This makes the stool bulky.

When stool is bulky, it stretches the bowel, which stimulates the rhythmic wavelike contractions of the bowel that move stool along. These contractions are called peristalsis.


What happens when stool dries out

Studies have revealed that when the amount of water in stool drops below 75%, stool begins to shrink, becoming more dense, dry and hard.

Because it lacks necessary bulk, this stool takes longer to pass through the colon. When it does reach the rectum, this dry, hard stool may then compact together with other stool, increasing its size.

When a person is actually able to pass this stool, its size and hardness can cause a great deal of distress during defecation.


Benefits of a moist stool

  • Water bulks up stool, which stimulates peristalsis

  • A moist stool is softer and easier to pass

  • Water serves as a lubricant, making stool smooth and slippery

To overcome constipation caused by dehydration, drink more water and other fluids, take a good electrolyte, and consider taking a magnesium supplement, which can work together with increased fluid intake to overcome this constipation.


2. Dizziness

Those with chronic dehydration may develop dizziness as a side effect. Dehydration can result in low blood pressure.

When blood pressure is low, an insufficient amount of blood reaches the brain, causing dizziness. Once patients with chronic dehydration have sufficiently rehydrated, this symptom tends to disappear.


3. Dry mouth

This is a common symptom of chronic dehydration, though not every person who is dehydrated experiences it. Many simply become thirsty.

When a dehydrated person doesn't sufficiently satisfy this thirst, over a period of time it can develop into chronic dehydration.


4. Confusion

Elderly individuals who suffer from chronic dehydration sometimes find themselves becoming confused.

While they are typically unaware of this symptom themselves, family members usually pick up on it, and insist that they see their doctor.

There are a couple of possible causes for their confusion:

  • An insufficient amount of water supply to the brain limits normal function of the nervous system

  • Dehydration has caused low blood pressure, meaning the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen or nutrients


5. Tiredness and fatigue

This is a very common clinical symptom of chronic dehydration. Tiredness and fatigue are a common symptom in all age groups.

However, older individuals may notice it more, since they tend to have less muscle strength and vigor to start with because of their age.

Replenishing the body’s water stores can help restore normal function and significantly reduce tiredness and fatigue.


6. Cardiac effects

Individuals who already have an underlying heart problem and then develop chronic dehydration occasionally develop problems with heart rhythm. Irregularities are not uncommon to such individuals.

As a result, they may experience palpitations, a feeling that their heart is beating too rapidly. Sometimes it is an irregular rapid heart beat.

Once again, this is experienced more by the elderly who have become chronically dehydrated.

Treatments are fairly simple, including:

  • Medication to control heart rhythm 

  • Rehydration may be restored by giving the person fluids intravenously through an IV

As the person’s body is rehydrated, the rhythm abnormalities may settle down and disappear.


7. Kidney problems

Individuals with chronic dehydration can develop abnormalities in kidney function. Typically, blood urea levels become elevated and creatinine levels may also become elevated.

Ways that kidney function can indicate dehydration

  • Check the levels of urea and creatinine. When these two markers are elevated, it implies that an insufficient amount of blood and fluid is being passed through the kidneys.

  • Determine if the patient is passing a sufficient amount of urine each day. When there is an insufficient amount of water reaching the kidneys, only a small amount of water will be filtered through the kidneys and excreted as urine.

  • Many a times, the dark color of the urine is sufficient to make a clinical diagnosis of chronic dehydration. When a person doesn’t urinate enough, it makes the urine more concentrated, with a high amount of pigments, with an appearance of dark yellow.

  • Dehydration predisposes an individual to develop kidney stones. Therefore, there presence can be an indication of dehydration. Severe and unbearable abdominal and back pain are a sign of kidney stones.

    Drinking a lot of water and other fluids can help to flush out kidney stones. When they are gone, the pain should be gone as well.

8. Joint pains 

Chronic dehydration can reduce the quantity and viscosity of synovial fluid, the fluid that is present within joints, resulting in joint pain.

Synovial fluid is a lubricating fluid that is present in every joint in the body, and is needed for smooth joint movement.


9. Muscle aches

Muscles require a good amount of water to function normally.

Most of us are aware that having too little protein in our diets is detrimental to the maintenance of muscle strength and tone. But water content is also a crucial factor.

In chronic dehydration, water content in muscles drops significantly. As a result, patients may find they are weak and unable to even perform normal day to day that depend on the movement of large muscle groups.

As dehydration continues, muscle damage may occur. Muscles start to break down and release certain proteins into the bloodstream. These proteins can in turn damage the kidneys.


Restoring Proper Hydration

Measures to restore hydration

As is seen in the above discussion, chronic dehydration can have a plethora of effects on human physiology, including constipation.

Increasing the intake of water and other fluids is vital to overcoming and preventing dehydration.

For individuals who are not able to drink a lot of water or other fluids because of underlying clinical conditions, such as chronic heart failure, there are other measures, including home remedies, that may be taken. 


Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Certain drinks can have a diuretic effect when a lot is consumed, resulting in an excessive amount of water being flushed out by the kidneys.

These drinks include caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, colas and energy drinks, and alcoholic beverages. (dehydration and alcohol)


Conclusion, Chronic Dehydration Symptoms

Chronic dehydration is a rather common for every age group, though it appears to be more common in the elderly.

There are 9 common symptoms of dehydration. Simple lifestyle changes and the consumption of a good amount of water each day can help restore needed body fluids.

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