Staying hydrated is vital for everybody, but it’s particularly important if you have diabetes. Read on to find out why.
What does it mean to be dehydrated?
Your body needs water to function properly. Every time you breathe, sweat, urinate, or have a bowel movement, you lose fluids. If you use or lose more fluid than you take in, you get dehydrated. It’s important to replenish the fluids you’ve lost by consuming drinks and foods that contain water.
How much water do I need?
It depends on factors such as your size, activity level, health status, and even the climate where you live. According to the Institute of Medicine, the average woman living in a temperate climate needs about 9 cups of total beverages per day, and the average man should drink about 13 cups daily. This rule doesn’t apply to everyone, so if you don’t know how much fluid you should drink, ask your doctor, diabetes educator, or a registered dietitian.
Why do I need to worry about dehydration and diabetes?
Anyone can become dehydrated, but having uncontrolled or untreated diabetes puts you at higher risk. Very high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes can cause dehydration. When the kidneys try to remove the excess sugar from the blood by excreting it from the urine, they remove some water from the blood as well. In this situation the body also starts to produce ketones—acids in the blood that can cause problems. This complicates the dehydration and can cause a medical emergency if not treated immediately
How do I know if I’m dehydrated?
Our bodies do a pretty good job of regulating water content. You are probably getting enough fluids if you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is light yellow or colorless.
If you are not getting enough fluid, your body will pull water from other sources, such as saliva, tears, and cells. This is what causes some of the early signs of dehydration, such as:
- Being thirsty
- Urinating less often than usual
- Dark-colored urine
- Dry skin
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
When there is nowhere else to draw water from, the body may become severely dehydrated. Signs of severe dehydration include:
- Extreme thirst
- Irritability and confusion
- Very dry mouth, skin, eyes, nose, or sinuses
- Shriveled and dry skin that doesn't "bounce back" when pinched
- Little or no urination
- Low blood pressure
- Very fast heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- No tears when crying
- Delirium or unconsciousness (in the most serious cases)
If you or a loved one with diabetes have any of the severe signs of dehydration, go to the emergency room right away or call 911. Severe dehydration requires immediate medical treatment.
How can I stay well hydrated?
To avoid dehydration, follow these tips:
- Drink a glass of water with each meal and in between meals
- Be sure to drink water before, during, and after you exercise
- Drink plenty of fluids when you are sick and be sure to monitor your blood sugar
- Choose low-sugar alternatives if water is not your beverage of choice, or flavor your water with lemon, orange, or cucumber slices
Again, if you don’t know how much fluid you should drink, ask your doctor, diabetes educator, or a registered dietitian. Be mindful of how much fluid you lose during hot weather, illness, and exercise, and drink enough fluids to replace what you’ve lost.
Dehydration, National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus
Dehydration, Mayo Foundation for Clinical Research
DKA (Ketoacidosis) & Ketones, American Diabetes Association
Don’t Dry Out, National Institutes of Health: News in Health
High Glucose: What It Means and How to Treat It, Joslin Diabetes Center
Hyperglycemia (High Blood Sugar), American Diabetes Association
Nutrition and Healthy Eating, Mayo Foundation for Clinical Research