Dehydration is a condition that results from losing more fluids than you take in. It can be triggered by a number of different factors, including diarrhea, which is why it’s important to know how to deal with this complication if it should arise. For many people, dehydration is something they associate with prolonged and intense physical activity in hot weather.
However, even passive activities such as sweating heavily can lead to dehydration. In most cases, dehydration caused by diarrhea will last for no longer than 72 hours after the cessation of diarrhea. This article explains the risks of dehydration from diarrhea and what you should do about it if it happens to you or anyone you know.
What Causes Dehydration?
Hydration is defined as the normal state of being well hydrated. The body needs water for almost every function, and dehydration refers to a lack of appropriate hydration in the body. It is the most common medical complication of diarrhea. Diarrhea is perhaps the most common cause of dehydration in adults and children.
Diarrhea can cause dehydration by excessive loss of fluids and electrolytes through stools. The most common electrolyte lost in diarrhea is sodium. Diarrhea also may cause dehydration due to decreased fluid intake and increased fluid loss. Decreased fluid intake occurs in some persons who have diarrhea because of a loss of appetite and an inability to drink fluids. The following situations also may increase fluid loss and lead to dehydration.
The Risks of Dehydration
The risks of dehydration may include: –
Increased risk of death – in young children, the risk of death from diarrhea may be 10%, but the risk of death due to dehydration is less than 1%. Studies have shown that the risk of death from dehydration is higher for adults than for children.
Decreased mental function – the body’s metabolism is slowed down as the body works to correct the fluid and electrolyte loss caused by diarrhea. As a result, the brain loses some of its ability to function.
Decreased ability to digest food and absorb nutrients – diarrhea slows the digestive process. This may result in poor absorption of nutrients from food and may contribute to malnutrition in people with prolonged diarrhea.
Decreased ability to fight infection – diarrhea can increase the number of harmful germs in the blood. This may result in increased infections in people with prolonged diarrhea.
How Does Diarrhea Lead to Dehydration?
The excess amount of water lost in diarrhea is made up by the beverage that people consume to replace the fluids they lose. However, some people with diarrhea consume smaller amounts of fluids than they lose. This results in dehydration. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration in several ways:
Increased loss of fluids and electrolytes – liquids that are lost with diarrhea include watery bowel contents, water in food particles, and secretions from the intestinal lining.
Decreased intake of fluids – diarrhea may cause a decreased appetite and a loss of interest in drinking fluids. Diarrhea itself may cause nausea, abdominal cramps, and abdominal pain, leading a person with diarrhea to desire only small amounts of fluid.
The Risks of Dehydration From Diarrhea
In the majority of cases, diarrhea will not lead to dehydration unless the person experiencing diarrhea is not able to replace the fluids they are losing with adequate amounts of beverages. If a person with diarrhea is able to drink enough, they are unlikely to become dehydrated. Diarrhea alone does not cause dehydration. However, in people who also have other health problems, diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Diarrhea itself does not cause dehydration when a person is able to drink adequate amounts of fluids.
However, dehydration from diarrhea may occur in people with other health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease, or with certain diseases of the digestive tract, including inflammatory bowel disease and cancer of the digestive tract.
What You Can Do About It
If you have diarrhea, you should try to drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. If you are not able to drink liquids by mouth, drink them through a nasogastric or naso-duodenal tube (for example, if you are in the hospital and have a tube in your stomach). The following tips will help you replace the fluids and electrolytes you lose during diarrhea:
Eat plenty of high-calorie foods – foods high in fat, such as dairy products, grains, and dried beans, are good sources of calories.
Add extra fluids to your diet – drink as much liquid as you can. If you have mild diarrhea, a sports drink (made with electrolytes, sugar, and water) is a good choice. If you are having more severe diarrhea, water is the best drink.
If you experience diarrhea, you may feel like you’re dying. Dehydration is a real threat and can be fatal if left untreated. The best way to avoid it is to drink plenty of fluids, keep your hands clean, and wash your food before eating it. If you suspect someone has diarrhea, be sure to keep your distance until it has cleared. If you are experiencing diarrhea, be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. If you are in a situation where you cannot keep yourself hydrated, be sure to let someone know so they can offer you assistance.