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Dehydration Should Be a Daily Concern

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Posted: 9/8/2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio – This time of year, college and professional athletes sweat through late-summer workouts and games, but they’re not the only people who should worry about maintaining proper fluid intake.

Doctor James Borchers
James R. Borchers, M.D.

“There is a misconception that inactivity means you don’t have to worry about dehydration,” says Dr. Jim Borchers, a sports medicine specialist at The Ohio State University Medical Center. “The truth is, many of us are chronically dehydrated, at least mildly, which puts us at risk for more severe dehydration when we increase our activity level.”

People with desk jobs who spend the day filling up on coffee and soft drinks – especially those containing caffeine – are particularly at risk because the caffeine mobilizes any existing fluids and helps flush them from the body.

“Caffeinated drinks don’t give adequate fluid replacement, and actually have a dehydrating effect,” Borchers said. “It’s a much better idea to drink water or other hydrating fluids during the day.”

Staying hydrated is so important because 60 percent of the body is made up of fluids, noted Borchers, who practices at the OSU Sports Medicine Center. So to have adequate fuel for everyday tasks and optimum muscle function for exertion, the body needs plenty of liquids. Just how much water is needed is different for each person, but there are signals when fluids are low – such as lethargy, fatigue, dizziness and a headache. Another telltale sign: urine that is dark in color, meaning the body is concentrating urine in an attempt to hold onto fluids.

Being thirsty, in fact, is a sign the body has waited too long for fluids. “With most exercise, drinking to prevent thirst is a good rule of thumb,” Borchers said. “Thirst is actually a late sign of fluid depletion.”

Though mild dehydration causes mild symptoms and problems with muscle soreness and slow recovery after exercise, more severe dehydration can lead to heat illness and even physiological imbalances that could damage organ function.

“One of the problems is that there are no clear signs that you don’t have enough fluids,” Borchers said. “So it’s important to keep track of the fluids you take in and pay attention to any environmental factors that could contribute to dehydration.”

Environmental factors range from excessive heat to wearing heavy clothes or equipment in warm temperatures that could elevate body heat.

Borchers recognizes that people unaccustomed to frequent water intake may have trouble making hydration a health habit. “It’s like most habits – you have to start slow and not expect to make major changes all at once,” he said. For those who don’t enjoy drinking water, he recommends trying fluid replacement drinks or other fluids that are sugar- and caffeine-free.

The OSU Sports Medicine staff includes physicians, licensed physical therapists, certified athletic trainers, licensed sports psychologists, nutrition consultants and a radiology technician, all based at OSU Outpatient Services, 2050 Kenny Road. Center services range from nutritional and psychological counseling and physical therapy to orthopedic surgery, routine sports physicals, and diagnosis and treatment of the full spectrum of sports-related injuries.

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Emily Caldwell
Medical Center Communications
614.293.3737
caldwell-6@medctr.osu.edu

OSU Medical Center; Primary Care Network; Sports Medicine; University Hospital; Wellness