Dehydration is a lack of adequate fluid and electrolytes in the body. It seems like a very general health problem that can be treated in a day or two. But the truth is, it is as serious a concern as any other health disorder.
Dehydration is a common concern, especially in the summertime.
But what does dehydration have to do with diarrhea or vomiting?
Are they closely linked?
Can dehydration cause diarrhea?
In this article, we will try to answer all of your questions about dehydration and diarrhea.
The consequences of dehydration can be dangerous if not treated within time. Electrolytes and water levels within the body go hand-in-hand. If we lose water from the body we also lose electrolytes.
Dehydration can cause diarrhea. It is one of the most common and recurring outcomes of lack of proper fluids. Diarrhea is the leading cause of mortality among children in developing countries.
Can Dehydration cause Diarrhea?
Yes, dehydration can cause diarrhea due to electrolyte imbalance which happens when you have fewer fluids in the body than is required for proper functioning.
There are other factors that contribute to dehydration, such as diarrhea and vomiting. When diarrhea occurs suddenly and severely, it leads to a rapid and substantial loss of water and electrolytes. The situation worsens when vomiting is added to the mix, as it results in an even greater loss of fluids and minerals.
Dehydration happens due to excessive fluid loss from the body. This means essential electrolytes like potassium and sodium also leave the body, creating an imbalance.
Potassium, for example, helps the intestine to absorb the water that comes into the system. Due to a lack of potassium, water doesn’t get absorbed and leaves the intestine as a watery stool. Thus causing diarrhea. (1)
Water is also necessary to neutralize the amount of sodium in the body. If you don’t drink water but have too salty foods, its salt can not only dehydrate you but can further cause potassium loss.
What is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea disrupts the normal movement of water and electrolytes in the gut. This results in loose and watery stools, more frequently than normal.
Diarrhea, characterized by frequent and loose bowel movements, is a widespread issue. It can be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, or weight loss. Fortunately, diarrhea is generally a temporary issue that only lasts a few days.
Electrolytes move via small channels or by tiny protein pumps in the gut cells. Water then moves by the process of osmosis from areas of lower to higher concentration. The electrolytes move water inside the body or can expel it into the gut.
When the fluid enters the small intestine, almost 90% of water is reabsorbed to balance the hydration status of the body.
When this fluid balance fails to happen, dehydration ensues. This dehydration can further cause many health complications, the most initial being noticed is diarrhea.
Diarrhea and Dehydration: What’s the connection?
Diarrhea is more like a symptom of dehydration than the cause. Electrolyte imbalances and dehydration are two common problems associated with diarrhea. However, both can be side-effects of each other.
Severe, acute diarrhea suddenly leads to even more water and electrolyte loss. Diarrhea is caused by increased secretion of fluid into the intestine and reduced absorption of fluid from the intestine.
Simply put, if the body is persistently devoid of major fluids and electrolytes for a long time, it will ultimately lead to diarrhea.
According to studies done, the volume of fluid lost through the stools in 24 hours can vary from 5 ml/kg (near normal) to 200 ml/kg, or more.
The total body sodium deficit in young children with severe dehydration due to diarrhea is usually about 70110 millimoles/liter of water deficit.
Symptoms of diarrhea
There are various signs and symptoms our body experiences when we have diarrhea. These are-
- Frequent loose, watery stools
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
Diarrhea also brings with itself a great deal of dehydration, the symptoms of which can be noticed as-
All these symptoms need to be taken into account collectively while seeking treatment for diarrhea.
Causes of Diarrhea other than dehydration
Diarrhea is not only limited to dehydration. There are numerous other causes associated with it. However, here one or the other linked implication would itself be dehydration.
The most common causes of diarrhea other than dehydration are-
- Bacterial infection in the gut
- Viral infections (mainly by rotavirus)
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disorders
- Food Intolerance
- Gut inflammation due to spicy foods
- Irritable bowel syndrome
In most cases, upon visiting a doctor, he or she asks you about your medical history and runs some physical and lab tests to determine the exact cause of your diarrhea.
These tests include-
- Blood test
- Stool test.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy
How Is Diarrhea Transmitted?
Diarrhea gets transmitted through contact with the virus or bacteria in the stool or vomit of the person infected. The contact may be indirect if you happen to touch the patient’s affected clothes or objects.
In a study done in 2015, the stools of 412 patients were collected to check this idea. The tests detected about 19 pathogens, including five viruses and 11 bacteria.
DEC, Salmonella sp., and C. jejuni were the most frequently identified pathogens. Noro-, sapo-, adenovirus, rotavirus, and V. parahaemolyticus came next. (2)
Treating dehydration-induced diarrhea
To prevent diarrhea, the foremost step is to prevent dehydration, the root cause itself. Here is how you can do it.
Prevention for children
- Fluids called oral rehydration solutions are one of the best choices. They contain important electrolytes required by the body in order to restore balance.
- Energy drinks and fruit juices are helpful too, but they don’t provide the ideal balance of water, sugar, and salt. However, you can give these in moderation.
- Bland foods with complex carbohydrates, lean meats, and fruits and vegetables are encouraged to be given to children to restore hydration.
- Make sure you do not only give water to the child. It may lead to low blood sugar or sodium levels.
Prevention for elderly
- An elderly person sick with diarrhea should try to drink at least 1.7 liters of fluid every 24 hours ( around 7-8 glasses of water).
- Make changes to your diet. Rely more on a fiber-rich diet and water-rich fruits.
- Manage related conditions like IBD or other GI disorders.
- Maintain ‘wash’ hygiene
Prevention for pregnant women
- Focus the most on your hydration. Drink lots of water.
- Include sports drinks, fruit juices, caffeine-free beverages, broth soups, etc. in your diet. Watch out for the sugar and caffeine content in sports drinks.
- ORS solutions may also work in the case of extreme dehydration.
- Prefer a bland diet to restore the lost fluid and electrolytes. Some easy-to-go foods are- applesauce, banana, plain mashed potatoes, rice, etc.
When to see a Doctor
If you experience the following while on the bouts of diarrhea, immediately visit your doctor-
- Diarrhea lasting more than two days
- Fever of 102 degrees F or higher along with diarrhea
- Six or more loose stools in 24 hours
- Severe pain in the abdomen
- Bloody stools
- Diarrhea accompanied by frequent vomiting
- Signs of severe dehydration
If the home remedies and the natural ways do not work for you, the doctor gives you medical treatment options. The most common ones which are effective too are-
- Antibiotics ( works in all the cases except virus causing diarrhea)
- Replacing the fluids and salts with IV fluids to prevent stomach pain and vomiting
- Adjusting your ongoing medications
- Treating underlying health conditions like GI disorders
What Can Happen If Diarrhea Is Not Treated Properly?
While acute diarrhea is not problematic, it can turn into chronic diarrhea if not treated soon. This means more water loss from the body in the form of stool. The result is dehydration, which you might know by now can cause diarrhea.
Therefore, you will be stuck in a cycle and find it tough to treat the issue.
Also, the resulting electrolyte imbalance and dehydration can lead you to experience fatigue. That with organ damage, high blood pressure, shock, headaches, dry mouth, loss of consciousness, or worse, coma. (3)
Dehydration and diarrhea hold a strong connection. Either of these can cause the other resulting in malnutrition and even death, in severe cases.
Thus, it is important to maintain the right fluid intake practices and take charge of your body by choosing the right diet.
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