Last summer over 270 patients were treated at Hamad General Hospital’s Emergency Department for heat exhaustion and dehydration. Doctors at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) are warning the public about the risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion, noting that mild to moderate dehydration can normally be reversed by drinking more fluids, but that severe cases require immediate medical treatment.
“While thirst and exhaustion can be expected as a result of fasting during Ramadan, these conditions can become worse and lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion,” said Dr. Biju Gafoor, Consultant, Emergency Medicine, Hamad General Hospital.
“The number of cases of heat exhaustion and dehydration that we see at the Emergency Department usually spikes during the summer months, and we see similar trends during Ramadan. Last year, between June and August we received in excess of 270 patients with heat exhaustion at the Emergency Department. It takes a loss of only one to two percent of our body water to cause dehydration. The condition is very dangerous,” said Dr. Gafoor.
According to Dr. Gafoor, dehydration is a clinical condition that occurs when the amount of water the body receives is not sufficient to replace the amount of water lost due to the body’s normal metabolic processes, such as sweating and urination.
“During Ramadan, people abstain from drinking and eating for a long period of time and dehydration can occur. However, the risk of dehydration is heightened when you add factors that can increase water loss, such as exposure to hot weather, excessive sweating, and loss of water through vomiting due to illnesses,” he said.
Common symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dark and discolored urine, general body weakness, headaches, cramping, inability to focus, nausea, and dizziness. In severe cases, dehydration can lead to decreased levels of consciousness and low blood pressure.
“Individuals most at risk of dehydration during Ramadan include those with chronic illnesses like diabetes and kidney diseases, the elderly, patients with heart disease, and those taking multiple medications such as diuretics, which increase the production of urine. Individuals who work or play sports outdoors during daylight hours are also very susceptible to becoming dehydrated,” he said.
Officials at HMC are asking the public to watch out for more vulnerable members of the community, especially if the weather is very warm. Individuals with a low fitness level and those who have experienced a heat illness in the past are also at increased risk of dehydration. Dr. Gafoor says the first line of defense in treating dehydration is staying hydrated. He recommends consuming ample amounts of fluids during non-fasting hours and suggests that those who play sports take time to warm up before exercising so the body becomes accustomed to the heat and the increased level of activity. He also recommends taking regular breaks during training sessions.
“For patients we treat for dehydration in the Emergency Department, our priority is replacing lost fluids. Most cases of dehydration can be treated by encouraging the use of oral fluids but in more severe cases intravenous fluid administration is required,” said Dr. Gafoor.
Dr. Gafoor recommends drinking at least eight to ten glasses of water between Iftar and Suhoor, noting this is the minimum amount required for the kidneys to perform the essential function of removing waste products from the blood.
“Individuals who fast should try to stay indoors and avoid direct exposure to hot weather. Those working outdoors are advised to rest when the weather is hottest or work in a shaded area when possible. Individuals who enjoy sports are encouraged to exercise during the evening, or indoors and people with chronic illnesses should consult their doctor before they start fasting because they can experience more severe complications if they suffer dehydration,” said Dr. Gafoor.