ORS Day 2020: How simple ORS solution saves you from dehydration in diarrhoea
A person suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting loses electrolytes and minerals present in their body, leading to severe dehydration
Diarrhoea and vomiting are quite common during the rainy season as the moist environment allows the bacteria and viruses to grow and spread more quickly. A person suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting loses electrolytes and minerals present in their body, leading to severe dehydration. One of the best ways to deal with this dehydration is by giving the person extra fluids either in the form of plain water or Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) solution to regain the electrolyte balance.
Every year, ORS Day is celebrated on 29 July to spread awareness about the importance of ORS in fighting against various deadly diseases.
What is an ORS solution?
ORS is a power-boosting glucose-electrolyte solution which helps in regaining lost electrolytes. The World Health Organisation states that ORS needs to have four basic ingredients which are then dissolved in one litre of clean drinking water. These ingredients are:
- 3.5 grams of sodium chloride (common salt)
- 2.9 grams of trisodium citrate, dihydrate
- 1.5 grams of potassium chloride
- 20 grams of glucose (sugar)
These ORS solutions are available in the market but if you do not have access to these you can make it at home by adding six teaspoons of sugar (1 teaspoon = 5 grams) and half a teaspoon of salt in one litre of clean water. Boil the water before using it.
How does ORS work in the body?
It is commonly known that ORS solution helps in the rehydration of the body but there is a vast mechanism of action behind it.
Normally, in healthy intestines, there is a constant exchange of water through the walls of intestines. Up to 20 litres of water is discharged and then reabsorbed by the intestines every 24 hours. This allows the metabolites (components formed during the metabolism of food) to get absorbed into the bloodstream.
When a person has diarrhoea, this balance of water gets disturbed. More water is discharged from the intestines than is reabsorbed, which leads to a net loss in the amount of water the body needs. Not only water but a large amount of sodium is also lost during this time. The human body stores sodium (available in the form of sodium ions Na+) in body fluids and blood plasma, whereas 98% of the body's total potassium (K+) is stored within cells (intracellular).
The concentration of sodium should be in proper limits to maintain the functions of the body. Normally the kidneys regulate the amount of the sodium in the body, however, in a state of dehydration, the sodium regulation is not effective. Thus when the diarrhoea is continuous, there is a rapid depletion of water and sodium. If more than 10 percent of the body's fluid is lost, the patient can die.
If only saline solutions (water plus sodium) are given to the patient, the body cannot absorb the sodium as the intestinal walls are impaired in the diarrhoeal state. Moreover, this salt solution can release excess sodium in the lumen of the intestine, causing increased release of water, thus worsening the diarrhoea. When glucose is added with the saline solution, the glucose molecules get absorbed through the walls of the intestines, irrespective of diarrhoea. The sodium is then absorbed in the intestinal walls with the help of the sodium-glucose cotransporter. Sodium-glucose cotransporter mediates the sodium and glucose transport across cell layers.
This is how the dehydration of the body is relieved completely within a couple of hours.
How is ORS better than other rehydration methods?
ORS solution is the easiest, cheapest and most effective way of treating mild and moderate dehydration. Some benefits of ORS solution over the other rehydrating methods (like intravenous delivery of glucose) are:
- ORS is the cheapest way of dealing with dehydration. You can either get it commercially or can make it at home.
- ORS does not require an injection, it can be consumed orally.
- You do not require a medical supervisor to administer ORS.
- ORS can be consumed by anyone and is safe for all age groups, including infants.
- ORS can start yielding results within minutes of consumption.
For more information, read our article on Diarrhoea.
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