It is no exaggeration to state that “water equals life” for human beings. Over 60 percent of the average adult body is made up of this precious fluid. Water is taken in through the liquids that we drink and the foods that we eat. Without a steady intake of water, we simply can’t survive.
Water naturally leaves the body through urination, sweat, and even breathing. Each day, urination accounts for about 45 ounces of water removed from our bodies, while sweating and breathing add up to another 21 ounces. Sicknesses that result in severe vomiting or diarrhea may dramatically increase these totals, as will profuse sweating as a result of illness, high temperatures, or strenuous exercise.
If the body does not take in enough fluids, dehydration can occur. This dangerous, even potentially life-threatening condition requires liquids to be replenished. If water loss is too great, or if the patient can’t drink enough fluids, artificial hydration methods may be implemented.
There are two main methods for replacing fluids through artificial hydration. The first is an intravenous method, where the fluids are supplied directly into the body’s veins.
The second method is known as hypodermoclysis, or subcutaneous fluid replacement, in which fluids are supplied into the body just under the skin. This method of treatment is most often used with the elderly or patients who are terminally ill.
Hypodermoclysis can be done at home by family members or a caretaker, whereas intravenous fluid replacement needs to be monitored by healthcare providers in their offices or the hospital.
To begin the process of treating dehydration through hypodermoclysis, a long needle is inserted under the skin of the patient, generally in the chest, thigh, or abdomen, and then taped into place. The needle is attached to a nearby fluid bag through a plastic tube or drip line. The rate of hydration is controlled through an adjustable drip chamber. Adjustments to the speed of the drip chamber can be done by family members at home after simple instruction from the healthcare provider.
Re-hydration through hypodermoclysis can be a long-term treatment, so the needle under the skin should be checked daily for any signs of a problem. The needle itself should be replaced once every four to seven days to help make sure the patient’s skin does not get infected.
Occasionally, problems can arise from treatment using hypodermoclysis. There can be swelling in the area of the skin where the needle has been inserted if the fluids are not being absorbed into the body quickly enough. A simple, gentle massage of the skin in that area should make any swelling start to disappear. If the swelling does not go away, you should immediately contact your healthcare provider.
Other problems can include a red, painful reaction on the skin in the area where the needle has been inserted. Often, this can be solved by simply moving the needle to a new location.
If there is blood visible in the plastic tube running from the needle to the fluid bag, this means that the needle has worked its way into a vein. The doctor or healthcare provider should be contacted immediately. Also contact the doctor’s office if the flow in the drip chamber seems to slow down or stop altogether. Any changes in the patient’s medical condition should be reported to a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Despite the chance of these minor complications, hypodermoclysis is less costly and easier to administer than intravenous fluid administration. In fact, the set up is so easy that it can often be done at home by other family members. Hypodermoclysis is also a less painful needle insertion than intravenous methods.
The insertion of the needle is comparatively simple, and there is less chance of any swelling in the soft tissue (edema) at the area of needle insertion. There is also less chance of clots forming in the body, of bacteria getting into the blood stream (septicemia), or a clot in the blood vein itself (thrombophlebitis).
Treatment through hypodermoclysis also has a lower risk of cellulitis, an infection at the needle insertion point that can spread to surrounding areas. Patients undergoing hypodermoclysis therapy also have less chance of suffering from an imbalance in electrolytes like sodium and potassium, or swelling in the arms and legs as a result of overloading the fluids into the body.
Caring for the Elderly
One group that is particularly susceptible to dehydration is elderly patients, especially those with debilitating or terminal health conditions. Family members and caregivers should pay close attention to the amount of fluids that elderly patients are taking in. Dehydration is one of the five leading causes of hospitalization for the elderly. Ensuring that elderly patients get the fluids they need is vital.