Dehydration is a common complication of diarrhea. Short bouts of diarrhea rarely cause concerns. But long lasting or severe diarrhea can lead to serious complications, especially for children and older adults.

Diarrhea is defined as having loose, watery stools several times per day. It can last for a few days or even several weeks. Diarrhea has many possible causes, including infections, food intolerances, surgery, or reactions to medication.

Since the diarrhea is high in water, it can cause your body to lose a lot of fluids. This can increase your risk of dehydration. Dehydration happens when you lose more fluids than you take in.

Dehydration can happen to anyone with diarrhea. However, it’s more likely to affect:

  • babies and children
  • older adults
  • people who are unable to recognize symptoms of dehydration

Dehydration is the most serious risk of diarrhea. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to serious complications. That’s why it’s important to get medical attention if you notice any signs or symptoms of severe dehydration.

Read on to learn about the signs of dehydration caused by diarrhea and what you can do to avoid dehydration complications.

Untreated dehydration caused by diarrhea can lead to:

For infants and children, having no tears when crying can also be a sign of dehydration.

Older adults may be confused or disoriented when dehydrated.

When to get medical help

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency. If you or someone else experiences the following symptoms, seek help immediately:

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Acute diarrhea occurs when it lasts for 1 to 2 days. Diarrhea is considered prolonged, or chronic, when it lasts for more than 4 weeks.

If diarrhea is severe or lasts a long time, it can lead to severe dehydration. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to organ damage and other health complications, such as:

It’s important to treat dehydration as soon as possible to reduce the risk of health concerns.

It’s not always possible to prevent diarrhea. However, there are steps you can take to replenish the fluids that you lose from diarrhea. This can help reduce the risk of dehydration and the complications that it can lead to.

Drink fluids

If you have diarrhea, increasing your intake of fluids is one of the easiest ways to prevent dehydration. It can help treat mild dehydration.

Water is a great choice. However, it’s also recommended to drink fluids with electrolytes. Examples include:

Oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, can also be used to prevent or treat dehydration. These drinks contain electrolytes and glucose.

Generally, oral rehydration solutions are recommended for:

If you’re a parent or caregiver, be sure to offer fluids regularly. Remind the child or person with diarrhea to drink fluids often and to always have drinks on hand.

Eat a nutritious diet

The foods you eat also contribute to your water intake. While you may want to avoid fibrous fruits and vegetables, other water-rich foods can include:

  • ice pops
  • gelatin
  • broth

When you have diarrhea, increasing your intake of these foods can help replenish fluid losses and prevent dehydration.

Rehydration therapy

For severe dehydration or shock, intravenous rehydration might be needed. This involves liquids that are injected straight into your vein.

A healthcare professional can provide rehydration therapy in an emergency room or other clinical setting.

Diarrhea happens when you have loose, watery stools multiple times a day. This can cause your body to lose a lot of fluid, potentially leading to dehydration.

When left untreated, dehydration can cause serious complications. This includes seizures, urinary tract infections, kidney problems, seizures, low blood pressure, and even death. That’s why it’s so important to prevent dehydration if you or someone you know has diarrhea.

To reduce the risk of complications, be sure to increase your fluid intake and eat water-rich foods. This will help replenish fluids in your body. If dehydration is severe, get medical help immediately. For serious cases, intravenous rehydration therapy might be needed.