Signs & Symptoms of dehydration
To maintain a hydrated state we need to take water into the body (obviously!) and also prevent too much from leaving. Water is ingested via the beverages we drink and the foods we eat and it leaves the body through our skin, faeces and urine.
The average person should drink from 1,5 to 2 litres every day in addition to water ingested via foods. To calculate the correct volume of water to be drunk there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration such as gender, age, body weight, size, meals, lifestyle & activities. All these factors can influence how much water should be drunk.
In considering how much water we are losing from the body factors such as exercise, temperature, caffeine, frequency of urination and defecation have to be taken into account.
On a hot day where we have done lots of exercise, drunk lots of coffee and have a bad case of diarrhoea will mean that we need to drink more water than usual. On a cool day, with no exercise, no coffee, we eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and our urination and defecation is normal will mean we are likely to need less water.
Given these variables it can be difficult to tell whether you are drinking enough water or not. So the question is how do we determine if we are correctly hydrated?
Methods to measure hydration
To determine if you are correctly hydrated there are two basic methods which include
1. listening too and knowing your body and
2. doing a hydration test
Both are equally valid methods and the majority of people adhere only to the first method by drinking when we feel thirsty. The second method is less well known but very useful and easy to do.
Listen to your body
The first method involves observing the indicators your body gives you about your hydration with the clearest being that you feel thirsty. Other signs include the colour of your urine (see our article on this topic here), having dry lips and skin, lack of urination. It is always wise to listen to the signals your body gives you and drink some water when you first notice these signs.
Unfortunately we can also be dehydrated before we start to feel thirsty so while a good method we need to be aware of our activity, the weather and our health.
As mentioned above, if we are exercising on a hot day we should be increasing our intake of water. If we have diarrhoea we need to also ensure we are taking in plenty of fluids to compensate for the water loss.
In severe cases of dehydration the symptoms become clearer. We might get muscle cramps, headaches or feel dizzy. Severe dehydration may affect our ability to think and we get confused or anxious. With extreme dehydration it is even possible to stop sweating all together! In mild cases drinking plenty of fluids and resting is important. In extreme cases it may be necessary to call an ambulance or visit a doctor to be monitored during the rehydration process.
To follow a more scientific process to measuring our hydration we can do the second method.
Do a Urine Test
The second method to determine how hydrated you are is by doing a diagnostic test. One of the easiest methods is a home urine test. Home Urine Tests are cheap, easy to carry out and give a very good insight into certain aspects of your health.
If we want to measure hydration we need a urine test strip that measures Specific Gravity. Specific Gravity is a measure that compares the ratio of the density of your Urine to the density of water. What does this mean?
Density is defined as the mass of an object per the unit of volume it occupies. In the case of water, 1 cubic meter of water weighs approximately 1000kg (well, 997kg), so for our purposes the density of water is one.
If we have a Specific Gravity measurement of 1 this means that our urine has the same density as water, or in other terms, if we had 1 cubic meter of our urine it would also weigh 997kg.
If the Specific Gravity of our Urine is greater than 1, it means our urine is denser than water. If it is denser it will be because there are more solids in the urine. This is key to understanding hydration.
Clearly our urine cannot be less dense than water, as the main component of urine is water and the theoretical lowest Specific Gravity measure of Urine is 1.
The highest Specific Gravity measure on most Urine tests is 1.030. The question for us in determining how appropriate hydration is what is a measure we can expect to be normal.
A result of between 1.008 and 1.020 is considered normal. Higher than this range can mean you are dehydrated and need to drink more. Under this range can mean you are expelling excess water.
A dip stick test for Urine Specific Gravity is easy to do and will give you a quick insight into your hydration. It works by you preparing a clean urine sample (article on this here) and then dipping your Urine Test Stick and waiting the correct time until reading the result.
To find out which test strips you can buy that measure Specific Gravity please consult our table of compatible Urine Test Strips here.
If you think you are dehydrated and serious about your testing it is recommended to test the Specific Gravity various times per day. With a hydration plan you should see your Specific Gravity return to the normal range.
In summary, dehydration is very important and we have to continually monitor our hydration and drink more or less based on the results. We can monitor our bodies natural signals about hydration or we can do a urine test to understand how hydrated we are.
A simple home urine test is an easy and cheap way to test our hydration. If we find we are hydrated we can do the test multiple times during the day as we hydrate until we find ourselves in the normal range.
There is nothing left to do now, but go and have a drink of water. Thanks for reading.