Language guiding therapy: The case of dehydration versus volume depletion

Kevin Mange, Dean Matsuura, Borut Cizman, Haydee Soto, Fuad N. Ziyadeh, Stanley Goldfarb, Eric G. Neilson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Indiscriminate use of the terms dehydration and volume depletion, so carefully crafted by our predecessors, risks confusion and therapeutic errors. These two conditions should be distinguished at the bedside and in how we speak to one another. Dehydration largely refers to intracellular water deficits stemming from hypertonicity and a disturbance in water metabolism. The diagnosis of dehydration cannot be established without laboratory analysis of p[Na+] or calculation of serum tonicity. In contrast, volume depletion describes the net loss of total body sodium and a reduction in intravascular volume and is best termed extracellular fluid volume depletion. The diagnosis of this condition relies principally on history, careful physical examination, and adjunctive data from laboratory studies. The pathophysiology of both dehydration and extracellular fluid volume depletion must be understood if these conditions are to be recognized and appropriately treated when they occur separately or together. There is no inclusive therapy for all situations. For example, indiscriminate treatment with 0.45% saline cannot be recommended when these conditions coexist because extracellular fluid volume depletion is often treated rapidly with 0.9% saline and dehydration is often treated more slowly with 5% dextrose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)848-853
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of internal medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 1 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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