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Dehydration is a condition brought about by a lack of adequate water in the body. If the shortage of water is severe, this can be a critical medical situation due to the critical role played by water in our blood vessels and bodily cells.
Dehydration can potentially affect individuals in any situation. Losing as little as 1.5% of the normal amount of water in the body can cause its symptoms (discussed below) to appear.
This means that many individuals who do not regularly engage in athletic activity can nevertheless be dehydrated.
However, athletes are probably more susceptible to this condition than people who do not regularly participate in sports. The body tends to lose fluid more rapidly during physical activity. This fluid needs to be replaced in order to maintain athletic conditioning and avoid a drop in performance level.
As a result, during periods of physical exertion, the body’s cells require more water in order to continue functioning properly. This means that dehydration is a factor that has a significant impact on athletic conditioning.
In this article, we will consider the importance of water to the body. We will then discuss dehydration as a sports “injury” and look at its key symptoms. We will also look at ways to treat and avoid this potentially debilitating medical problem.
Water comprises approximately 55% to 78% of the human body. Critical organs such as the brain and heart are largely made up of water – in those two, about 73% each. The same is true of other important organs such as the skin, kidneys and lungs.
Water plays several important roles in bodily functions. These include (among many other roles);
Water is even more important for athletes in hot weather as its role in maintaining correct body temperature is even more critical.
Athletes or other active individuals use more water than normal in warm temperatures. As they sweat (a part of the body’s temperature regulation process) the body loses its water content. If that fluid loss is not replaced, it will not be available to help carry out the other functions mentioned above.
As a result, maintaining appropriate levels of hydration becomes even more important for athletes or other physically active individuals.
It will be evident from the above that water plays key roles in sustaining many key bodily functions.As a result, at extreme levels, dehydration can be viewed as a potentially life threatening condition.
For an athlete, even mild dehydration can cause a noticeable deterioration in sports performance. For them, maintaining adequate fluid intake while competing or training is critical to maintaining a high performance level.
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of dehydration. These include:
Based on the above discussion of dehydration risk factors, it will be clear that it is important to be able to recognize its signs. Doing so is an important part of being able to proactively avoid the condition.
The symptoms of dehydration include:
Although shortness of breath is not necessarily a dehydration symptom, the two tend to occur together. They are both caused by intense physical exertions in hot weather.
The most important symptom of dehydration is the one provided naturally by your body – thirst. It is one of the earliest symptoms developed by the body, since it is caused by relatively small deficits or losses of fluid in the body.
However, doctors can also detect the condition via lab tests. These tests would include:
In the majority of cases of dehydration, doctors rely on clinical signs rather than laboratory tests to diagnose the condition.
Although dehydration can be a serious condition, it can be very easily treated- usually by drinking enough water to replace the deficit of fluid.
Oral rehydration solutions made from powders mixed in with water can be used to treat dehydration if it has progressed beyond a mild stage.
For athletes, drinking fluids is even more important during competition or training. For this reason, a variety of sports drinks is available on the market to help prevent dehydration amongst athletes.
Beyond athletes, dehydration can be avoided by adopting the following habits:
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