Water is essential to life. In fact, the entire human body consists of approximately 66% water!
Our bodies need water before it needs food, sleep or exercise. Water is a crucial component of all bodily functions and plays an especially important role in digestion, elimination of toxins, the transportation of nutrients and regulation of body temperature.
The body loses approximately 1.5L of water every day through sweating, exhaling and elimination. As our bodies have cannot store water, the lost water must be replaced. This is known as hydration.
Dehydration refers to the loss of body fluids and is responsible for many unplanned trips to doctors and emergency rooms. This can be due to diarrhoea, vomiting, excessive sweating, fever and overexposure to the sun. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of dehydration is particularly important for cancer patients, especially when on chemotherapy that causes vomiting and diarrhoea. Rapid weight loss also affects body water and electrolytes. The body’s thirst and urine output mechanisms weaken with age. It is therefore very important to monitor elderly cancer patients as they are especially vulnerable to dehydration.
Signs of dehydration include: dizziness, sunken eyes, skin does not spring back when pulled up, lethargy, irritability, general feeling of weakness, decreased urine output, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, dry lips and skin.
NB!! If you experience little or no urine output for more than 12 hours, or urine that is very dark in colour, accompanied by dizziness, fainting or a feeling of confusion, you MUST call your doctor immediately.
The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink fluids. This is often easier said than done when experiencing nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Try drinking small amounts of clear fluids every 15 – 30 minutes until you can keep larger amounts in!
Tips to increase fluid intake and prevent dehydration:
• Use straws. You often drink more when you use a straw.
• Carry a special water bottle with you.
• Add fruit to your water jug or glass.
• Freeze little bits of peeled lemons, limes, and oranges and use them in place of ice cubes.
• Drink hot drinks with mint leaves or lemon and honey in winter.
• Write down everything you drink.
• Set an alarm to remind you to drink .
• The colour of your urine is a guide! If it is dark, increase your fluids. If it is light yellow, you are drinking enough.
• Try herbal teas, lemon water, fruit juices and vegetable broths.
• Suck on ice-lollies or frozen fruit drinks (slushes).
• Eat more fluid-filled foods such as apples, apricots, bananas, bean sprouts, broccoli, raw cabbage, carrots, celery, cherries, cucumbers, grapes, lettuce, orange, papaya, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon.
Written by Mare Worthmann