Cholera can quickly become fatal. In the most severe cases, the rapid loss of large amounts of fluids and electrolytes can lead to death within two to three hours. In less extreme situations, people who don't receive treatment may die of dehydration and shock hours to days after cholera symptoms first appear.
Although shock and severe dehydration are the most devastating complications of cholera, other problems can occur, such as:
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- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Dangerously low levels of blood sugar (glucose) — the body's main energy source — may occur when people become too ill to eat. Children are at greatest risk of this complication, which can cause seizures, unconsciousness and even death.
- Low potassium levels (hypokalemia). People with cholera lose large quantities of minerals, including potassium, in their stools. Very low potassium levels interfere with heart and nerve function and are life-threatening.
- Kidney (renal) failure. When the kidneys lose their filtering ability, excess amounts of fluids, some electrolytes and wastes build up in your body — a potentially life-threatening condition. In people with cholera, kidney failure often accompanies shock.
- Harris JB, et al. Cholera. The Lancet. 2012;379:2466.
- Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2014: 5 Books in 1. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2014. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- Cholera — Vibrio cholera infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/cholera/index.html. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- Cholera. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs107/en/. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- Brooks GF, et al. Jawetz, Melnick, & Adelberg's Medical Microbiology. 26th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=57032697&searchStr=cholera. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- WHO position paper on oral rehydration salts to reduce mortality from cholera. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/cholera/technical/en/. Accessed Dec. 30, 2013.