Tips for Overcoming Dehydration

For those of us with cystic fibrosis, our bodies put us through a lot every day because of those two mutated CFTR genes. Why is it that something that seems as simple as an imbalance of salt and water could cause such complicated symptoms throughout the entire body?

Many people who know about CF know about the lung infections, first and foremost, because that tends to be the most devastating issue in the body. However, there are so many other ways that CF affects the body.

CF affects the entire body

Many people with CF experience:

CF really does affect our entire bodies, and the way it does so may be different for each and every individual with CF.

I have struggled with many of these issues throughout my life. Weight gain has always been an issue for me, due to malnutrition and pancreatic insufficiency. Also, I started getting colonoscopies and colon cancer screenings from an unusually young age due to polyps potentially linked to CF. And, I have always, always, always struggled with dehydration.

Why are cystic fibrosis and dehydration related?

It makes sense that our bodies lose salt quicker, because of the nature of CF and the fact that the mutated gene that is moving chloride in and out of the cell is dysfunctional. The first test typically done in the diagnosis of CF is a sweat test. Because of this, science is not in our favor when it comes to staying hydrated. Since our bodies lose salt quicker, more of our body’s water goes with it and can often result in dehydration.

For me, dehydration has been an especially tricky aspect of cystic fibrosis to keep under control. Being an athlete, it is of vital importance to be able to manage this symptom. Unfortunately, there have been more times than I can count that I have felt that devastating headache start to form and know what the outcome will be before it happens. On these occasions, no matter how much water or Gatorade I try to drink, dehydration is usually inevitable. I know it will eventually lead to a severe, debilitating migraine that will end with vomiting before my body will start to feel better.

I cannot control the weather (or heat waves), and I don’t want dehydration to stop me from living my life. If I am running a 5k or playing in an ultimate frisbee tournament on a 100-degree day, there really is only so much I can do.

Over the years, however, I have found a few tips and tricks that have helped me keep this under control as much as possible. They have limited the days I end up severely dehydrated.

Tips for overcoming dehydration with cystic fibrosis

  1. Drink plenty of fluids

    Drink as many fluids as you can. If there are days you know you will be in the heat or exercising, drink before, during and after exerting yourself. Also, mix in some sort of sports drinks. In recent years, my personal favorite has become Bodyarmor, which has no artificial sweeteners and is packed with electrolytes and potassium.

  2. Eat salty snacks

    Since I was young, my parents would send me with potato chips and salty snacks if they knew I was going to be out in the heat. This will help your body replenish the salt (that it will inevitably lose) and help keep dehydration at bay.

  3. Salt tablets

    This is a trick I have found in recent years and it became a lifesaver for being an athlete in the heat. I started taking Salt Stick, which is an electrolyte capsule created for replenishment of the electrolyte profile (sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium) during physical activity. These tablets, in my experience, have been lifesavers when it comes to saving me from dehydration with cystic fibrosis.

  4. Exercise when it’s cooler or inside

    Now, I am not a morning person. And, I am definitely guilty of running around and playing frisbee in 100 degree weather. However, when possible, I try to exercise inside (at the gym), or when it’s cooler out, either in the morning (ugh, I know) or after dark. It will help to reduce how much you sweat.

I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped me survive the hotter months and long days of exercising. If you’re like me, you don’t want dehydration to hold you back. The better you understand your body, and what works best for you, the better you can combat dehydration and come out stronger.

Now that you're armed with these tips, don't be afraid to go out there and sweat!

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