Dehydration in Survival Situations

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Water is the critical component in your body, and 75% of your body weight is composed of it. When the body’s water level goes down, bad things happen. In the Civil War, 80,000 soldiers on both sides perished, not from battle injuries, but from dehydration due to diarrheal disease. Since we can expect to be thrown back to that era medically in a societal collapse, every prepper has to know how to recognize and treat dehydration.

How Does Dehydration Happen?

You can become dehydrated in any environment, hot or cold, depending on various factors, including workload, clothing, general health status, age, and water supply.  Injuries such as burns and hemorrhagic wounds will also cause dehydration. Poorly-controlled diabetes are prone to it as well.

Dehydration occurs when the amount of water going out of our body is more than the amount of water we take in. We lose water when we breathe out humidified air, sweat, urinate, and have bowel movements. The body, through the hormones controlling the kidney, can regulate the loss of fluids from the body.

Symptoms of Dehydration

The signs and symptoms you should look for in evaluating someone for dehydration are variable, depending on the individual.  In the beginning, you can expect to hear your patient complain of thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, weakness, and muscle cramps. Your patient may have lost just 1-2% of their total water content to experience these symptoms.

If you fail to take measures to hydrate them, you’ll notice an increase in body temperature, heart rate (above 100 beats per minute) and respirations (20 or more per minute).  The body makes an effort to conserve water, so the kidneys will begin to concentrate the urine, making it appear darker and decreasing total urine volume. Additionally, your patient might feel faint or complain of headaches.  This occurs at, say, 2-5% body water loss.

In severe dehydration (6% or more water loss), expect loss of coordination, confusion or delirium, nausea and vomiting, loss of consciousness, and even seizures.  By this point, you’ll notice your patient’s skin appears shriveled and, if you lift it, it tends to stay up (“tenting”). At 10-20% body water loss, organ malfunction is likely to ensue, followed by shock, coma, and even death.

The medic’s strategy in a collapse situation would be to identify dehydration early, when oral rehydration will fix the problem. Few of us will have the skill or supplies to give IV hydration. An excellent form of oral rehydration is diluting Gatorade half and half with water. Gatorade diluted in this fashion is essentially colored sweat, and will work well to rehydrate a dry individual. The official World Health Organization recipe for preparing oral rehydration fluid is the following: 1 tablespoon salt, 6-8 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 tablespoon salt substitute (for potassium) and a pinch of baking soda (for bicarbonate) per liter of water.

IV rehydration solution is very similar to the above. A basic IV rehydration solution consists of sterile water, sodium chloride (salt) and dextrose (sugar) added. It is supplied in plastic bags.  Additional substances called “electrolytes”, like potassium, bicarbonate, magnesium, and even vitamins might be added.  Training in placing IV lines is available in EMT basic courses.  The military, often, also trains its personnel in this skill

4 million children die every year in underdeveloped countries from dehydration due to diarrhea and other causes. If we find ourselves in a collapse situation, we will become just another underdeveloped country. Identify dehydration in time, and you will be able to keep your family or survival group healthy.

For information on heat stroke and heat exhaustion, check out our article on the subject:

Dr. Bones

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

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