Complications of Diarrhea

What are the complications of diarrhea?


Diarrhea may cause dehydration, which means your body lacks enough fluid and electrolytes to work properly. Your body loses more fluid and electrolytes in loose stools than solid stools. See a list of the symptoms of dehydration.


Diarrhea may cause malabsorption. If people do not absorb enough nutrients from the food they eat, they may become malnourished. Certain conditions that cause chronic diarrhea—such as infections, food allergies and intolerances, and certain digestive tract problems—may also cause malabsorption. See a list of the symptoms of malabsorption.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)1

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Back to: « Diarrhea

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What are the symptoms of dehydration and malabsorption?

Dehydration and malabsorption can be serious complications of diarrhea. Their symptoms in adults, infants, toddlers, and young children are as follows.


Symptoms of dehydration in adults may include:

Signs of dehydration in infants, toddlers, and young children may include

  • thirst
  • urinating less than usual, or no wet diapers for 3 hours or more
  • lack of energy
  • dry mouth
  • no tears when crying
  • decreased skin turgor
  • sunken eyes, cheeks, or soft spot in the skull


Symptoms of malabsorption in adults may include

Symptoms of malabsorption in infants, toddlers, and young children may include

Seek care right away

Diarrhea can become dangerous if it leads to severe dehydration. Diarrhea may also signal a more serious problem.


Adults with any of the following symptoms should see a doctor right away:

Older adults and adults with weakened immune systems or other health conditions who have diarrhea should also see a doctor right away.

Infants, Toddlers, and Young Children

The parent or caretaker of an infant, toddler, or young child with diarrhea and any of the following symptoms should seek a doctor’s care right away:

Source: NIDDK (NIH)2

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The danger of diarrhoea in young children is the loss of fluids from the body, which can quickly lead to dehydration. This can be life-threatening. The child must be watched closely because he/she can get worse very quickly.

Source: Queensland Health3

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See your doctor if:

  • there is any blood, pus or mucous in your bowel motions
  • you develop a rash
  • the diarrhoea lasts more than one week or comes back
  • you get any new or worse symptoms.

You must also see your doctor if you (or a family member) are badly dehydrated.

Source: New Zealand Health4

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Dehydration: Dehydration

Long periods of diarrhoea, or repeated episodes, can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous.

  • There is a greater risk of dehydration when diarrhoea and vomiting occur at the same time.
  • Those most at risk are infants, children and older people.

If you or a family member is dehydrated, the main signs will be:

  • very little (or no) urine being passed
  • the urine being very dark and smelly.

A useful test is to pinch some skin on your tummy or inner thigh. If it stays in the pinched shape after you let go, that is a clear sign of dehydration

Source: New Zealand Health5

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Dehydration: There’s a greater risk of dehydration when diarrhoea and vomiting occur at the same time.

Source: New Zealand Health6

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  1. Source: NIDDK (NIH): health-information/ digestive-diseases/ diarrhea/ all-content
  2. ibid.
  3. Source: Queensland Health: HealthCondition/ condition/ 14/ 33/ 39/ diarrhoea-in-young-children
  4. Source: New Zealand Health: your-health/ conditions-and-treatments/ diseases-and-illnesses/ diarrhoea
  5. ibid.
  6. Source: New Zealand Health: your-health/ conditions-and-treatments/ diseases-and-illnesses/ vomiting

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.