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Dehydration: A Complication That May Arise From Diarrhea

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Diarrhea is a common ailment that plagues everyone from time to time. It can be caused by a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection or may be a sign of a more serious health problem.

Typically, diarrhea clears up on its own within a few days and is not a cause for concern. But severe or frequent diarrhea can be a sign of a bigger health issue and needs medical attention. If left untreated, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which comes with its own health concerns.

When Diarrhea Leads to Dehydration
The biggest complication of diarrhea is dehydration, which occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in. When this happens, your body doesn’t have enough water and fluids to carry out its normal functions.

Anyone can get dehydrated, but it is more common and more dangerous in young children and people with weakened immune symptoms.

Signs of dehydration include:

urinating less frequently than normal
dark-colored urine
dry mouth and tongue
feeling tired
sunken eyes or cheeks
light-headedness or fainting
a decreased skin turgor (when the skin is pinched and released, it does not flatten back to normal right away)
These signs should also alert parents to possible dehydration in children, with additional signs including a lack of energy, no wet diapers for three hours, listlessness or irritability, and the absence of tears while crying. 

Dehydration can be mild, moderate, or severe. In more serious cases, it puts stress on the heart and lungs and may lead to shock, which can be life-threatening.

Treating Dehydration
If you’re suffering from dehydration, drink plenty of water. You may also want to try sucking on ice cubes. But water may not be enough, as it does not contain the salts and electrolytes (minerals such as sodium and potassium) your body also needs to recover.

Drinking fruit juices and sports drinks, as well as eating soups with clear broths, can help replenish electrolyte levels. Just pay attention to the amount of sugar in these drinks, as too much sugar can worsen diarrhea symptoms.

For children, talk to your pediatrician about oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, as a way to treat diarrhea and prevent dehydration.

If diarrhea is severe, your doctor may determine to treat dehydration with fluid via intravenous therapy (IV).

If treated quickly and appropriately, someone suffering from dehydration should recover completely.

Preventing Dehydration
There are steps you can take to prevent dehydration in the first place. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids every day, even when you are not sick. In warm and hot weather or when you are exercising, be sure to drink even more.

Anyone who is sick with a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea should drink plenty of fluids and not wait for signs of dehydration to emerge before doing so.

If any of your loved ones are ill, pay close attention to how much they drink, especially children and older adults. If you think someone in your family may become dehydrated, call your doctor before they begin to show signs of dehydration.

When to Seek Medical Help
While most times people who are dehydrated will recover completely, there are instances where medical attention is necessary to prevent any further complications.

Call 911 immediately if:

The person loses consciousness at any time
There is any other change in the person's alertness, such as confusion or seizures
The person has a fever over 102 degrees F
You notice symptoms of heat stroke, including rapid pulse or rapid breathing
The person's condition does not improve, or gets worse despite treatment 

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