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Diarrhoea & Dehydration

Usually acute diarrhoea is harmless, but it is important to take medical advice if you have severe, watery diarrhoea or frequent vomiting with major loss of fluids. This is recommended for the babies and toddlers; people with weakened immune systems; and especially elderly people because they often feel less thirsty, and may not drink enough water and as a result, they are at greater risk of dehydration due to not having enough fluids in the body.


The most severe threat posed by diarrhoea is dehydration. During a diarrhoeal episode, water and electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium and bicarbonate) are lost through liquid stools, vomit, sweat, urine and breathing. Dehydration occurs when these losses are not replaced.


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Sunken eyes, cheeks or face

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Faster rate of breathing or higher pulse rate than normal

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Older people may sometimes have chest pain or muscle cramps too

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Poor skin elasticity (skin slowly sinks back to its normal position when pinched)

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Extreme thirst

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Light headedness

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Dark-colored urine or lack of urge to urinate

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Dry eyes, lips, tongue


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No Dehydration

Not enough signs to classify as moderate or severe dehydration


Moderate Dehydration

Not enough signs to classify as severe dehydration

  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Sunken eyes
  • Drinks fluids eagerly, thirstily
  • Skin pinch goes back slowly (< 2 seconds)

Severe Dehydration

Two or more of the following signs:

  • Lethargy / unconsciousness
  • Sunken eyes
  • Unable to drink fluids or drinks poorly
  • Skin pinch goes back very slowly ( ≥ 2 seconds)