Skin turgor is a sign used by health care workers to assess fluid loss or dehydration. Fluid loss can occur from common conditions, such as diarrhea or vomiting. Infants and young children with vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased or no fluid intake can rapidly lose a significant amount of fluid. Fever speeds up this process.
To determine skin turgor, the health care provider grasps the skin on the back of the hand, lower arm, or abdomen between two fingers so that it is tented up. The skin is held for a few seconds then released.
Skin with normal turgor snaps rapidly back to its normal position. Skin with decreased turgor remains elevated and returns slowly to its normal position.
Decreased skin turgor is a late sign in dehydration. It occurs with moderate to severe dehydration. Fluid loss of 5% of the body weight is considered mild dehydration, 10% is moderate, and 15% or more is severe dehydration.
Edema (a buildup of fluid in the tissues that causes swelling) causes the skin to be extremely difficult to pinch up.
Intravenous fluids may be needed for severe dehydration. You may need medicines to treat other conditions that affect skin turgor and elasticity.
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Gorgas DL, McGrath JL. Vital signs measurement. In: Roberts JR, ed. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2014:chap 1.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.