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Children Have Higher Risk of Dehydration

Diarrhea, fever are frequently to blame

(HealthDay is the new name for HealthScoutNews.)

SATURDAY, July 19, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A dramatic reduction in the amount of fluid in the body causes dehydration, which can be a serious, even life-threatening, condition if left untreated.

And children, especially babies and toddlers, are at a greater risk of dehydration than adults because they have less fluid reserves and because they are sick more often, says Dr. Elizabeth Powell, a pediatric emergency physician at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

The biggest cause of dehydration in youngsters is diarrheal illnesses, Powell says.

"There's the fluid loss from the diarrhea and in addition kids feel lousy, so they don't drink," she says.

Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, no tears and a lack of urination. Babies less than 3 months old should urinate at least once every six hours; toddlers should wet at least three diapers a day, and older children should be going to the bathroom at least two to three times in a 24-hour period, Powell says.

Signs of more serious dehydration include sunken eyes, lethargy and a loss of elasticity in the skin. If you notice these symptoms or a lack of urination, contact your child's doctor.

The first line of treatment for dehydration is drinking fluids, preferably an oral electrolyte solution designed especially for children. Powell says sports drinks designed for adults aren't as effective as the ones made for kids.

Encourage your child to take small, frequent sips of a pediatric electrolyte drink any time they're sick with a fever or diarrhea. More serious cases of dehydration may require intravenous rehydration. But fortunately, Powell says, serious cases of dehydration are fairly uncommon in the United States.

More information

To learn more about dehydration, visit the National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Elizabeth Powell, M.D., pediatric emergency physician, Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago; National Library of Medicine
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