Dehydration is how you define it: comparison of 318 blood and urine athlete spot checks

BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018 Feb 1;4(1):e000297. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000297. eCollection 2018.


Clinical medicine defines dehydration using blood markers that confirm hypertonicity (serum sodium concentration ([Na+])>145 mmol/L) and intracellular dehydration. Sports medicine equates dehydration with a concentrated urine as defined by any urine osmolality (UOsm) ≥700 mOsmol/kgH2O or urine specific gravity (USG) ≥1.020.

Objective: To compare blood versus urine indices of dehydration in a cohort of athletes undergoing routine screenings.

Methods: 318 collegiate athletes (193 female) provided blood and urine samples and asked to rate how thirsty they were on a 10-point visual analogue scale. Serum was analysed for [Na+], while serum and UOsm were measured using an osmometer. USG was measured using a Chemstrip. Data were categorised into dehydrated versus hydrated groupings based on these UOsm and USG thresholds.

Results: Using UOsm ≥700 mOsmol/kgH2O to define dehydration, 55% of athletes were classified as dehydrated. Using any USG ≥1.020 to define dehydration, 27% of these same athletes were classified as dehydrated. No athlete met the clinical definition for dehydration (hypertonicity; serum [Na+]>145 mmol/L). Normonatremia (serum [Na+] between 135 mmol/L and 145 mmol/L) was maintained in 99.7% of athletes despite wide variation in UOsm (110-1298 mOsmol/kgH2O). A significant correlation was confirmed between serum [Na+] versus UOsm (r=0.18; P<0.01), although urine concentration extremes did not reflect derangement in serum markers or thirst rating.

Conclusion: Urine concentration thresholds classified 27%-55% of collegiate athletes as dehydrated, while no athlete was dehydrated according to blood [Na+] measurement. Practitioners should caution against using urine indices to diagnose or monitor dehydration, because urinary output is a response rather than a reflection of (tightly regulated) blood tonicity.

Keywords: athlete; fluid balance; hypohydration.