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Dehydration affecting performance of hospital clinicians

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The cognitive function of a “significant” number of hospital nurses may be impaired because they are turning up for work dehydrated or not taking on sufficient fluids during shifts, according to UK researchers.

The study authors noted that dehydration of as little 2% of total body weight may impair physical and cognitive performance.

“A significant proportion of nurses and doctors were dehydrated at the start and end of medical and surgical shifts”

Study authors

Their study, published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, was to investigate the prevalence of dehydration at the start and end of shifts in nurses and doctors on-call.

The research involved 88 nurses and doctors working on medical and surgical admissions wards at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Participants arrived on the ward approximately 20 minutes before their shift and were asked to provide a urine sample. Height and weight were then measured.

Cognitive function was assessed using a series of computer-based tests including the Stroop Colour Naming Interference Test and Sternberg Memory Paradigm.

Participants then worked normally, but were asked to keep a fluid diary for the duration of their shift and fluid balance was estimated. The tests were then repeated at the end of the shift.

The researchers found 36% of participants were dehydrated at the start of the shift and 45% were dehydrated at the end of their shift.

They also found that single number and five-letter Sternberg short-term memory tests were significantly impaired in dehydrated participants.

“This study highlights that a significant proportion of nurses and doctors were dehydrated at the start and end of medical and surgical shifts,” said the researchers in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

“Dehydration was associated with some impairment of cognitive function,” they added the study authors who were led by Mr Ahmed El-Sharkawy from Nottingham University.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • I can't imagine this will come as a surprise to any medical professional.... with infection control preventing any water/juice bottles to be kept at the desk or station where we work it is impossible to stay hydrated. Even with breaks, these short periods are simply not enough to rehydrate fully. Water stands/dispensers are not readily available on wards for staff to benefit from this possibility either! Solutions welcome!

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  • Well what a surprise. i have been saying this for years. Still we are nurses not patients so we are probably expendable.

    Come on lets campaign to allow nurses to drink fluid at work. We wouldn't let dogs not drink so why should we let nurses suffer. Health and safety states our employer must protect our health and well-being at work.....
    Come on protect nurses

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  • 36% were dehydrated at the start of the shift. It is up individuals to drink well before they arrive on shift. Still I agree water should be readably available to all staff at work.

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  • Dehydration is a problem for staff and patients alike. It does need addressed.

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  • But how many nurses, like me, consciously restrict fluid intake at work to avoid needing to go to the loo?
    It just takes out too much time that we haven't got because we are so busy.

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  • Worsened by coffee percolator permanently switched on and grabbing an espresso to counteract stress around six times a day! Only realised one day when I found my hands sweating and trembling and had to fetch a colleague to give a patient an injection on my behalf. That day I counted my average intake and the shock caused me to drastically reduce it with disappearance of these symptoms.

    9 am after finishing the care of one patient and on my way to the next I was 'caught' by my boss in the ward kitchen, where I had been for only a few seconds standing drinking a glass water half an hour before my coffee break! I think one is more effective and motivated if one is on occasion, such as this one, permitted to listen to one's own body clock!

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