How Nurses Keep Patients Hydrated in the Hospital

In a hospital setting it is surprisingly easy for older people and sick patients to become dehydrated as a consequence of their illness. Dehydration leads to confusion, headaches, infections, and acute kidney injury. The nurse along with the CNA have a critical role in checking the status of patients and preventing dehydration from occurring. This helps patients recover sooner.

As an adult ages the body’s fluid reserve becomes smaller and the body’s ability to conserve water is reduced. With a smaller water reserve, the body urines more frequently and does not keep that water for bodily function. Hydration is more important as we age and if we have chronic illnesses. A chronic illness like uncontrolled diabetes causes the body to expel urine more frequently as a pathway to expel increased glucose in the body. Whether in perfect health or in the hospital, it is important to stay hydrated for body health and wellness.

What is Dehydration?

A condition when the loss of body fluids and water exceeds the amount that is ingested. Without the proper amount of water in the body, the body loses its ability to function normally.  Some of the symptoms of dehydration include increased thirst, dry mouth, decreased urine output, urine that has a dark yellow color, dizziness, labored breathing, and headaches. Other signs of water retention, due to low water supply include swollen feet, hands and ankles.

Those suffering form severe dehydration may have symptoms including low blood pressure, sunken eyes, a weak pulse or rapid heartbeat, confusion or lethargy. It is important for nurses to check the status of patients and make sure they are properly hydrated.

How Do People Lose Water in Their Bodies?

Patients will lose water every day from water vapor in the breath that is exhaled, in sweat, urine and stool. Other ways a patient can become dehydrated in a hospital is from a fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Some medications can cause constipation and an increase in water consumption is needed to eliminate the body’s stress and relieve constipation. Processed foods are high in protein and lack the moisture content of fresh foods. Meats also pull water from the body during digestion. Hospital meal plans take this into consideration and try to offer the patient fresh foods that are not processed.

What Does Water Do for the Body?

Water is in every part of our bodies. More than half of our body weight is water. Water helps regulate the body’s temperature, rids the body of waste, lubricates the intestines and joints, aids in digestion and most importantly transports oxygen and nutrients throughout the body through the body’s cells.

How to Prevent Dehydration of Patients in the Hospital

To prevent dehydration in patients, it is important for the nurse to be proactive and check the status of the patient to make sure they are drinking enough water in the first place, before they become dehydrated and suffer symptoms of dizziness and headache. The nurse should educate the patient and family on the need for proper water intake. The nurse can find out if the patient prefers a specific drink or want to add natural flavor to the water to make it more palatable. The patient should stay away from caffeine as it will actually cause them to be more dehydrated. The nurse should check the bedside to make sure the patient has access to water. Finally, the nurse will need to monitor the patient’s fluid intake to make sure they are staying hydrated.

Be Proactive

One of the vital skills of a nurse is to spot those patients who need assistance with eating and drinking. Recognizing the patient has a problem means the nurse can schedule time to help them with drinking fluids so they do not become dehydrated. This is especially important when a patient stops receiving intravenous fluids as they may not drink sufficient water.

Educate the Patient and Family

Nurses play a vital role in raising awareness of the importance of fluid intake with both patients and their families. Patients need to be told how much they are expected to drink so they help themselves where possible. If they are unable to drink without help, then a nurse can support them. Relatives visiting the patient can also be asked to assist with supporting them with having a drink.

Find Out Preferences

One of the easiest things to do when a patient is reluctant to drink and becomes at risk of dehydration, is to find out what they like. If there is a favorite drink or a specific way they like tea made, a nurse can see what the catering staff can do or ask a relative to bring things to the hospital. If a patient can be tempted by something they want to drink, this encourages them to take sips regularly. Supporting a patient by getting them to drink a small amount regularly helps them get into a routine and slowly take more fluids.

The patient may prefer the addition of fresh lemons or limes. Even natural flavors can spice up the water including orange, pineapple or cherry. The addition of natural plant sweetener in small amounts can also help a patient drink more water.

Many fresh foods have water in them as well. Fresh fruits like grapes, watermelon and oranges have a high water content. Fresh vegetables including lettuce, cucumbers and celery are also full of water.

Stay Away from Caffeine

Caffeine is a diuretic and will actually cause the body to expel water. Drinks including soda and coffee can make a patient more dehydrated as the diuretic will cause the patient to pass more urine. Most hospital meal plans try to keep patients from drinking caffeine to help them stay hydrated.

Check the Bedside Area

Nurses can do a few simple things to ensure people avoid dehydration in the hospital. Making sure drinks are left within reach of the patient along with a call buzzer is fundamental, but often something that gets overlooked. Sometimes patients require a beaker with a covered lid for drinking to avoid spillages so providing the correct utensils is another way a nurse can help.

How to Check the Status of Fluids in Patients

One of the core roles of a nurse is to chart vital signs including the fluid intake and output. As they are with the patients in the hospital, it is essential to monitor the amount of fluid being taken in so that any risks to health can be dealt with promptly. A nurse will also have a role in measuring urine output to assess the function of the kidneys. By charting fluids, dehydration can be closely monitored to prevent problems from occurring.

Fluid balance and monitoring the intake and output of body fluids is vital to prevent a number of serious complications. If patients are supported to drink more this will help avoid dehydration and a deterioration in their condition. Raising awareness of the issue is another proactive role that nurses have in care settings. Nurses are vital in this role and key to preventing complications from dehydration.

Enjoy helping others? Are you interested in learning more about how to check the hydration status of patients? The Associate of Science in Nursing degree program provides training to prepare college graduates to enter the nursing profession as a registered nurse. Upon graduation and licensure, college graduates will be eligible to seek employment in hospitals, clinics, private duty, urgent and acute care centers, and various other medical or business facilities requiring the services of registered nurses.

Contact us today to learn more about the Associates of Science in Nursing degree program at Gwinnett College.