Consuming ORS mindlessly not wise: Experts

City Health

While not taking Oral Rehydration Salts at the correct time can cause electrolyte imbalance, doctors say taking them unnecessarily can also cause the same.

Diksha takes Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) solution twice a day during the hot summer days. Once while going to college, and another while coming back. She says she likes the taste of them, and she has heard that ORS are good for healthy body functioning, especially during summers. However, she said no doctor has prescribed that she take ORS.

Diksha is not the only one. Pharmacies across the city say they have reported an increase in the sale of ORS solutions and powder over the last two months. However, doctors warn of some potential life threatening effects of excessive ORS intake such as hypernatremia (salt toxicity), hypertension and renal failure.

Raghunath Reddy, President of Karnataka Chemist and Drugs Association (KCDA) said in a report, “We’ve seen a 50 percent increase in sales (of ORS and electrolytes) compared to the same period last year.”

Aseem, staff at Swasth Pharma, ITI layout said ORS solutions in tetra packs are in higher demand than powdered ORS. He also said that almost none of the customers produce a medical prescription before buying. He too, recommends people use ORS.  “More and more number of people are going out for work in this heat; hence more people are buying ORS. It is important to take ORS to combat the heat,” he added.

Doctors however advice against drinking ORS at one’s will. Dr. Gauthami B, a general physician from the city said, “It is not recommended that normally hydrated or healthy people take ORS on a daily basis, even during summers. ORS contains more electrolytes such as sodium and potassium than ordinary drinks.” While profuse sweating can lead to fluid loss and hence electrolyte imbalance, intake of unnecessary ORS can also hamper the electrolyte balance, she added.

ORS sales skyrocket as Bangalore sees an unusual summer this year

G Joykutty, proprietor of Krupa Medicals, also in ITI Layout said sale of ORS in his shop has multiplied by almost 70 percent in the past couple of months. “I find myself running out of stock every week, and my one week’s stock is more or less 200 units,” he said.

Rajanna, who works at a Medplus outlet said, “Because we offer medicines at discounted prices, people buy multiple ORS packs from us at a time and stock them to be taken over days.”

Dr. Anitesh Sadhu, general surgery doctor at a private hospital in Pune said ORS should be treated like a medicine and it is not for regular consumption, unless under doctors’ advice. “ORS are generally harmless for people who lose a lot of water through sweat from staying outside for long hours. Taking them regularly just because it is summer and one is sweating is not a good idea,” he said. For the average healthy person, water is adequate to replenish fluids in the body, even during hot summers, he added.

Diksha said she is unaware of the negative health effects caused by overconsumption of ORS. “It never occurred to me that ORS could be bad for you, people at the pharmacy never told me anything either.”

Sowmya said she makes her daughter drink ORS when she comes back from school every day. She explained that about a month ago, when her daughter was suffering from an upset stomach, a doctor had prescribed her ORS for three days. But she has been giving her daughter ORS since then, she said. “I do not give her glucose solutions because I have heard they can spike blood sugar levels, especially in children,” she added.

However, doctors warn of excess sugar content in certain ORS brands. Dr. Sadhu said, “Patients should be careful to buy only World Health Organization (WHO) recommended brands.”

Both Dr. Sadhu and Dr. Gauthami said while ORS should ideally be taken under doctor’s orders and in required quantities, it is an over-the-counter drug and should not require a medical practitioner’s prescription to purchase. “Timely consumption of ORS can save any patient who can take oral liquids from going into severe dehydration,” Dr. Sadhu said.

Recent news reports note that Primary Health Centers (PHCs) in Chennai will offer a free glass of ORS solution to all visiting patients amid rising temperatures in the city.

Anirudh Gaurang, senior Research Associate at the Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad said while oral rehydration is an effective first-line treatment for mild to moderate dehydration, severe dehydration calls for immediate medical attention. “If symptoms persist or worsen, it is crucial to seek further medical help,” he added.