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Oral rehydration solution (ORS)

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Oral rehydration solutions are a balanced formulation of electrolytes and minerals such as:

  • sodium
  • potassium
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • chloride
  • small proportion of glucose

They can be added to water to make a solution that’s readily absorbed by the body. The electrolyte composition of ORS is carefully balanced to mimic the electrolyte concentrations found in the human body, facilitating optimal absorption and retention of fluids.

Doctor’s advice

Who is it for?

It is for anyone who requires hydration. Oral rehydration solution can be used for dehydration caused by illness, exercise, or even a hangover. It can be used in children and adults.

Always reconstitute oral rehydration tablets or sachets according to the manufacturer’s instructions, do not add more or less water than stated because the solution has been scientifically formulated to contain the right number of electrolytes and glucose to aid hydration. The amount to take will depend on your age. You should make up the solution right before you intend to take it. If you are experiencing vomiting or having trouble keeping down fluids, reconstitute your rehydration solution, and take frequent but small sips. It is important to finish the entire solution to see the benefit.

How does it work?

Oral rehydration solutions such as Dioralyte and O.R.S contain a scientifically balanced mix that is absorbed through the small intestine by a process called osmosis, which gets fluid back into the bloodstream up to 3 times faster than drinking water alone. This fast-tracks fluids to the tissues that need it, allowing you to carry on or recover from a workout. They are also the right choice for hot climates or gastroenteritis (when diarrhea or vomiting causes water loss).

What is oral rehydration solution used for?

ORS is primarily used to treat dehydration caused by diarrheal illnesses, such as cholera, rotavirus infection, and traveler's diarrhea. It is also recommended for managing dehydration associated with vomiting, fever, heat exhaustion, and strenuous exercise. Additionally, ORS can be used to prevent dehydration in high-risk populations, such as infants, young children, and the elderly.

Benefits of oral rehydration solution

ORS offers several advantages over intravenous fluid therapy, including cost-effectiveness, ease of administration, and reduced risk of complications. By providing a simple and accessible means of rehydrating patients, ORS has helped save countless lives and prevent long-term health consequences associated with severe dehydration.

How to make oral rehydration solution

ORS is typically prepared by mixing a specific quantity of ORS powder or pre-packaged sachets with clean water according to the manufacturer's instructions. The prepared solution should be consumed within a specified timeframe to ensure optimal efficacy. ORS can be administered orally using a cup, spoon, or oral syringe, making it suitable for use in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and households.

Are they safe?

Oral rehydration salts are generally considered safe for all ages and many ongoing medical conditions, such as diabetes and mild kidney disease. If used correctly, they only replenish what is already being lost by the body.

Should anyone avoid using them?

For more severe medical conditions, you should consult your doctor or specialist before starting, as care is needed not to upset the fragile balance of salts. Conditions requiring caution include moderate to severe kidney disease, heart failure, being put on a restricted daily fluid intake, or taking certain diuretic medications, such as furosemide or spironolactone.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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