Drink up! Proper hydration is essential for good health

June 30, 2023 Swedish Health Team


In this article:

  • Water is the perfect beverage for hydration, while sweetened beverages are the least recommended liquids.

  • Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than you take in.

  • One of the most common causes of dehydration is heat illness, which can take several different forms — heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

We all know just how good a cold glass of water can look on a hot day — especially when your mouth is bone-dry. But drinking water does more than just quench your thirst — it helps keep your body functioning properly and feeling healthy. When you drink enough water, you can more easily avoid the most serious heat-related illness: heat stroke. Water performs a wide range of functions that are integral to life itself, including:

  • Regulating body temperature.
  • Metabolizing and transporting carbohydrates and proteins.
  • Removing bodily waste.
  • Lubricating and cushioning joints.
  • Protecting the spinal cord and brain.

What should you be drinking?

Men typically have a higher body weight than women and need at least 12 cups of fluid each day, while women need at least nine cups. That amount of fluid intake could increase depending on how much a person exercises, how much they are sweating and whether they are breastfeeding.

Plain water is the healthiest way to stay hydrated, but other foods and drinks can add to the amount of fluid you get each day. It’s important to choose wisely.

Research from the Beverage Guidance Council looked at several types of beverages and ranked them according to their health benefits and risks:

  • Water. This is the perfect beverage for quenching thirst and restoring fluids.
  • Tea and coffee. These are among the most commonly consumed fluids. They contain antioxidants, flavonoids and other healthy substances. Adding fat, sugar and flavorings can reduce their health benefits. Drink coffee and tea in moderation, especially since they often contain caffeine, a diuretic that can cause dehydration with overconsumption.
  • Low-fat and skim milk and soy beverages. These are good sources of protein and other essential micronutrients.
  • Non-calorically sweetened beverages. These include diet sodas and other diet drinks that are sweetened with calorie-free artificial sweeteners and should be limited to an occasional treat rather than a regular beverage choice.
  • Caloric beverages with some nutrients. These include vegetable and fruit juices, whole milk, sports drinks and energy drinks, vitamin-enhanced waters and alcoholic drinks. Each type of drink has individual risks and benefits, depending on which you choose.
  • Calorically sweetened beverages. These are the least recommended and include soft drinks, fruit drinks and other beverages containing sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other high-calorie, low-nutrient sweeteners. 

In many cases, the signs of dehydration go away when you replace the fluids you lost. But it can lead to serious health challenges if left untreated, especially after an illness that causes you to lose fluids rapidly, like a stomach bug. 

Dehydration is dangerous

Your body uses fluids constantly as it performs daily functions such as sweating, urinating and eliminating waste. Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in. Severe dehydration can lead to kidney failure, heart failure, anemia and damage to your nervous system.

If you have had a stomach bug that caused excessive vomiting or diarrhea, it’s important to rehydrate with small amounts of water or an electrolyte drink over an extended period of time. See if you can keep a few sips of water down every 30 minutes. If you can’t keep water down for several hours call your doctor right away.

Heat illness

One of the most common causes of dehydration is heat illness, which can range from mild discomfort — such as heat cramps — to a life-threatening condition. Here’s a rundown of the different types of heat illness:

Heat cramps

Heat cramps are muscle spasms that occur while you’re exercising. They are most common in your legs, arms or abdomen. Symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating during exercise.
  • Extreme muscle pain.
  • Muscle spasms.

Heat rash

Heat rash causes skin irritation from excessive sweating. Symptoms include:

  • Red clusters of small blisters.
  • A rash that typically occurs on the neck, chest, groin or elbow creases.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs after you’re exposed to high temperatures and take in insufficient fluids for several days. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can become heatstroke. Symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Rapid, weak pulse.
  • Cold, clammy skin.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Excessive fatigue.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Heat stroke

Heatstroke is a life-threatening illness that causes your body temperature to rise to dangerous levels in minutes. If you or a companion is experiencing signs of heatstroke, seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms include:

  • Body temperature of 103° F or higher.
  • Hot, red, dry skin.
  • Rapid, strong pulse.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Headache.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Losing consciousness.

When to call the doctor

In many cases, the signs of dehydration go away when you replace the fluids you lost. But it can lead to serious health challenges if left untreated, especially after an illness that causes you to lose fluids rapidly, like a stomach bug. Seek medical attention if someone:

  • Loses consciousness.
  • Becomes confused or experience foggy thinking.
  • Has seizures.
  • Develops a fever over 102° F.
  • Experiences symptoms of heatstroke.
  • Feels ill and your condition does not improve.
  • Cannot keep water down for a period of 12 hours.

Preventing dehydration

Preventing dehydration and keeping heat illness at bay sounds like a relatively simple process — you just have to drink more water. But for some people, that can be challenging. The following tips can help you increase your daily water intake and reap the health benefits that being adequately hydrated can bring.

  • Boost your water’s flavor with a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber.
  • Carry a water bottle and refill it throughout your day.
  • Drink water before, during and after a workout.
  • Feeling hungry? Drink some water; sometimes, you're actually thirsty, not necessarily hungry.
  • Drink a glass of water when you first wake up.
  • Make water your best friend. Your body will thank you.

Learn more and find a doctor

If you have concerns about your health or it’s time for a check-up, it’s important to see a primary care provider. Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options.

For urgent, walk-in or after-hours care, visit one of Swedish Urgent Care facilities. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our Swedish provider directory. If you have questions about care for your children or want to schedule vaccines and immunizations for them, contact Swedish Pediatrics or your child’s primary care provider.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Additional resources

Staying safe and healthy during wildfire season

Stay safe while exercising in summer heat: Tips from a Swedish sports doc

Fun in the sun? Remember to protect your skin!

Tips for where and how to treat common summertime injuries and illnesses

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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