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07. Assessment of dehydration

07. Assessment of dehydration

Last update: 2022-09-14


  • Patients with diarrhoea, especially children, can lose a lot of fluid from their bodies and suffer dehydration. 
  • Dehydration can cause very severe illness and sometimes death, especially in association with acute watery diarrhoea and cholera.

How to assess whether a patient has dehydration, and its extent

Dehydration stage Signs Treatment
No dehydration Skin recovers its shape normally when pinched; thirst has subsided; urine has been passed; the pulse is strong. Oral rehydration solution (ORS) at home; zinc supplements for children up to 15 years of age.
Moderate dehydration Restlessness and irritability; sunken eyes, dry mouth and tongue, increased thirst; skin recovers its normal shape slowly when pinched; reduced urine; decreased tears; depressed fontanels (soft membranes on head) in infants. ORS and very close surveillance; zinc supplements for children up to 15 years of age.
Severe dehydration Lethargy or unconsciousness; very dry mouth and tongue; skin recovers shape very slowly when pinched (“tenting”); weak or absent pulse; low blood pressure; minimal or no urine. In a health facility or in a hospital: IV therapy plus antibiotics plus ORS; zinc supplements for children up to 15 years of age.

After the assessment, and according to the degree of dehydration, the following actions should be taken:

Assessment of dehydration table

Signs of dehydration 

  • Sunken eyes 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Lethargic/weak 
  • Skin pinch returns slowly 
  • Little or no urine
IFRC_assessment of dehydration