Cholera Symptoms Explained – Signs You Should Watch Out For

It’s extremely vital to watch out for cholera symptoms, as a delayed diagnosis can often prove to be fatal, due to the nature of the disease.

Cholera, caused by a bacterium, is a highly contagious diarrheal disease that begins and progresses rapidly. Once contracted, mainly through the consumption of contaminated water or food, clinical cholera symptoms appear within a few hours to 5 days.

Cholera presents itself as mild or asymptomatic in 80 – 90% of the cases, but in 20% of the cases, it can become severe and, if not treated promptly, can even lead to the death of the individual within hours of onset.

Cholera Symptoms You Should Watch Out For

The primary cholera symptoms include the following:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte Imbalance

Cholera Symptoms #1: Diarrhea And Vomiting

The most strikingly characteristic symptom of cholera is a painless and profusely watery stool that patients pass, often accompanied by a fishy odor. Based on how such stool looks, it is also termed as “rice water stool”.

The stool of affected individuals has a pale, milky, or cloudy appearance due to the presence of flakes of mucus and intestinal epithelial cells. It resembles the water in which rice has been rinsed.

Untreated cholera can lead to water, fluid, and electrolyte loss from the body at the rate of 0.95 liters/hour. The disease leads to the production of 20-30 liters of stool everyday.

Why Do Cholera Patients Lose Fluids?

Diarrhea in patients is caused by the release of the cholera toxin by the bacterium.

This toxin blocks the absorption of sodium and chloride by the intestinal absorptive cells and promotes the secretion of water and chloride, causing watery diarrhea.

Patient may experience other abdominal cholera symptoms like:

  • Stomach pain
  • Abdominal cramps (sudden involuntary painful muscular contraction)
  • Nausea (vomiting sensation)
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Mild fever

Cholera Symptoms #2: Dehydration

Severe dehydration often occurs four to eight hours after the first liquid stool. The patient’s skin may turn bluish grey due to dehydration, a condition termed as blue death”.

cholera symptoms

Dehydration, one of the main cholera symptoms, is manifested by wrinkled skin.

The skin may become wrinkled and non-elastic due to the loss of moisture, resembling the hands of a washer-woman (as per popular depiction). A person experiencing dehydration is likely to sport other such signs:

  • Dry mouth and mucous membrane
  • Dry skin
  • Glassy or sunken eyes
  • Excessive thirst
  • Low urine output
  • Lack of tears
  • Extreme drowsiness or lethargy
  • Sleepiness
  • Rapid pulse/heart beat
  • Arrhythmia/Irregular heart beat
  • Restlessness and irritability

People who present with such cholera symptoms should be immediately moved to a hospital and given proper medical care, as this is a serious development. This will allow them to get a cholera diagnosis.

Cholera Symptoms #3: Electrolyte Imbalance

This is one of the main cholera symptoms. Dehydration leads to the rapid loss of minerals or electrolytes from the blood, causing an electrolyte imbalance.

The rapid loss of salts like sodium, chloride, and potassium can result in muscular cramps too. The glucose concentration in the bloodstream may also decrease (hypoglycemia).

The electrolyte imbalance can cause an excessively acidic condition of the body fluids and tissues, also known as “acidosis”.

Why Is It Important To Look For Cholera Symptoms?

If untreated, cholera can cause a hypovolemic shock – an emergency condition in which rapid fluid and blood loss can bring down the heart’s ability to pump enough blood and oxygen to the body, leading to circulatory collapse, acute renal failure, multi-organ failure, coma, and ultimately death.

HIV patients and malnourished individuals, who sport a weak immune system, face a higher risk of developing complications.

Cholera accounts for 100000 –1,20,000 deaths annually, and only through the proper identification of cholera symptoms and subsequent treatment can this disease be countered. Cholera prevention and causes of cholera should be analysed thoroughly to ensure that you don’t contract the disease.


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