still water on a lake

How to Recognize Severe Dehydration and What are Your Treatment Options?

Nearly everyone is in agreement that proper hydration is important. Yet many don’t realize that they may be in a chronic state of dehydration. Recent studies show that nearly 78% or 246 million Americans would be classified as chronically dehydrated.

At its core, dehydration occurs when your body is unable to replenish the fluids and electrolytes it uses to keep the body running. This can be amplified by neglecting to rehydrate what has been sweat out of the body because of increased activity such as exercise.

Like with anything, there are varying degrees of severity when it comes to dehydration. A large portion of the 78% may only present with mild dehydration, while others could have such extreme dehydration that it would be classified as severe.

The difference between mild and severe dehydration

On the surface, the difference may seem simple, but it is a significant distinction as it relates to what course of treatment would be most effective and if you require professional medical attention.

Symptoms of mild or moderate dehydration may include:

  • Mild headaches
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Darkening of urine
  • Muscle cramps

Towards the end of this post, we’ll discuss several powerful ways to treat severe dehydration. Most of them can work for those presenting with symptoms of mild and moderate dehydration as well. Additionally, drinking more water, consuming electrolytes, and incorporating water-rich fruits and vegetables will help ensure consistent hydration to alleviate these moderate symptoms.

People, especially in the process of major life changes like trying to lose weight or making geographical moves, mild or moderate dehydration may enter into the realm of being extremely severe. Symptoms like headaches, decreased focus, and cramping may just be the beginning of what they experience.

Symptoms of severe dehydration

Let’s look at some of the symptoms that may accompany severe dehydration.

Dry skin with little bounce back

While dry skin may indicate a slight lack of hydration, a major change in skin elasticity could indicate that things have gotten severe. A way to test for this is to pinch a portion of your skin. If “tenting” occurs or it takes a long time to bounce back to normal, it could mean severe dehydration.

Confusion and equilibrium issues

Chronic confusion or issues with balance and dizziness may indicate a severe lack of hydration in your body. Made up of mostly water, the brain requires two things that proper hydration provides; adequate fluid and proper blood flow.

When levels reach dangerously low levels, people may present with dementia-like symptoms and have difficulty walking. When it comes to their balance, they may feel the world spinning around them and dizziness that makes it difficult for them to perform basic things such as sitting and standing.

Very dark urine or reduced urination

Urine is one of the primary ways that the body is able to detoxify the body and eject waste from the system. Severe dehydration forces the body to try and hang on to as much fluid as it can, reducing the amount of fluid available to produce urine. If the color of urine has become extremely dark or you very rarely need to urinate, and it is not getting better by simply consuming more water, professional medical attention may be required.

Fever and chills

Hydration plays a central role in your body’s temperature regulation. In order to maintain ideal conditions for your organs and muscle tissue to function, fluid is used as a liquid cooling system. Extreme dehydration can cause your body to present with hypothermic, fever-like, and cold symptoms.

Rapid heart rate and breathing

Severe dehydration can cause rapid, out-of-nowhere increases in heart rate and breathing. This is because electrolytes are essential components in your heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. Severe dehydration can put enormous stress on your heart, forcing it to beat faster and harder as it fights to keep blood circulating while lacking key nutrients. If not addressed, these symptoms could manifest with extreme chest pain and increase the likelihood of heart attack in adults.

Fainting or unconsciousness

Dizziness experienced in mild or moderate dehydration can escalate to full-on fainting and bouts of unconsciousness in extreme cases. This is due to a few reasons, including low blood pressure and getting fluid to the brain, both related to severe dehydration. Especially in young children, fainting due to dehydration may require medical help.

Treatment options for severe dehydration

Treatment for severe dehydration will vary from mild dehydration. Moderate dehydration can afford treatment options that require longer time horizons to see their benefits. Examples of this would be changes to diet and eliminating salty, diuretic-inducing foods.

However, massive change in a short amount of time becomes essential when it comes to serious dehydration. Here are three of the most effective ways to deal with severe dehydration.

Drink water immediately

While simple, it is an essential step to quickly reversing extreme dehydration. It is important not to “chug” water at this stage as it could worsen matters. Focus on small, consistent sips of water over time.

electrolytes supplements

While it’s best to derive these nutrients, vitamins, and amino acids from food, extreme dehydration may require oral supplementation. Examples of this are water-soluble electrolyte tablets or oral supplements.

IV hydration therapy

One of the most effective treatments when it comes to dehydration is IV hydration therapy. The good news is that you can receive this kind of treatment without visiting the hospital.

IV hydration therapy is a saline solution often filled with various electrolytes and nutrients. Administered straight into the bloodstream, IV hydration rapidly restores proper fluid levels in your body and addresses any electrolyte deficits simultaneously.

Available in IV clinics, health/wellness centers, and even in the comfort of your home via mobile IV therapy services, IV therapy has become the preferred method for many when it comes to dealing with dehydration on any level.


Severe dehydration can be a miserable experience. Basic functions we take for granted can suddenly become impossible, and, left untreated, it can affect our long-term health. Thankfully, we can use many ways to treat it and get back to the business of maximizing the quality of our lives.

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