Diarrhea: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Overview

Diarrhea is a very common health complaint characterized by loose, watery stools or more frequent bowel movements. It can be acute, persistent or chronic.

  • Acute diarrhea typically lasts 1 or 2 days and goes away on its own.
  • Persistent diarrhea lasts longer than 2 weeks and less than 4 weeks.
  • Chronic diarrhea lasts at least 4 weeks. Its symptoms may be continual or may come and go.

Although diarrhea is usually not serious, diarrhea lasting for weeks may indicate other serious conditions such as a persistent infection, inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome which is less serious.

In the United States, there are about 179 million cases of acute diarrhea every year. That number is 2 billion worldwide. Furthermore, 1.9 million children under the age of 5 years, mostly in developing countries, die from diarrhea.


Symptoms

In addition to passing loose, watery stools three or more times a day, you may also have the following symptoms:

  • an urgent need to use the bathroom
  • cramping
  • loss of control of bowel movements
  • nausea
  • pain in the abdomen

If the diarrhea is caused by some infections, symptoms may include:

  • bloody stools
  • fever and chills
  • light-headedness and dizziness
  • vomiting


Complications

Moreover, diarrhea is likely to result in complications such as dehydration and malabsorption.

Dehydration

Symptoms of dehydration involve:

  • fatigue
  • dry mucous membranes
  • increased heart rate
  • a headache
  • lightheadedness
  • increased thirst
  • decreased urination
  • dry mouth

Dehydration occurring in children can be very severe. Seek immediate medical care if your child has symptoms such as:

  • decreased urination
  • dry mouth
  • a headache
  • fatigue
  • a lack of tears when crying
  • dry skin
  • sunken eyes
  • sunken fontanel
  • sleepiness
  • irritability

And the following things may indicate an emergency:

  • diarrhea for 24 hours or more
  • a fever of 102°F or higher
  • stools containing blood
  • stools containing pus
  • stools that are black and tarry

Malabsorption

People with malabsorption may have:

  • bloating
  • changes in appetite
  • gas
  • loose, greasy, foul-smelling bowel movements
  • weight loss or poor weight gain


Causes

The factors contributing to acute and persistent diarrhea include infections, traveler’s diarrhea, and side effects of medicines.

  • Infections

There are three types of infections may lead to diarrhea, including:

1.viral infection
2.bacterial infections
3.parasitic infections

  • Traveler’s diarrhea

People traveling to developing countries may have traveler’s diarrhea, caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. This condition is typically acute, but parasites may cause diarrhea lasting longer.

  • Side effects of medicines

Some medicines have side effects may that bring about diarrhea, such as antibiotics, antacids containing magnesium, and medicines used to treat cancer.

Chronic diarrhea can be caused by some infections, food allergies and intolerances, digestive tract problems, abdominal surgery, and long-term use of medicines.

  • Food allergies and intolerances

Chronic diarrhea may result from allergies to some foods like cows’ milk, soy, eggs. Lactose intolerance and fructose intolerance also play a role in the development of diarrhea. Lactose intolerance refers to a condition causing diarrhea after you have milk products or foods and drinking liquids that contain milk. Fructose is a sugar found in fruits, fruit juices, and honey. If you have fructose intolerance, you may get diarrhea after having these kinds of foods and drinking liquids.

Besides, sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol may cause diarrhea in some people. Sugar alcohols can often be found in sugar-free candies and gum.

  • Digestive tract problems

The following digestive tract problems may cause chronic diarrhea:

1.celiac disease
2.Crohn’s disease
3.irritable bowel syndrome and other functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
4.small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
5.ulcerative colitis

  • Abdominal surgery

After having an abdominal surgery, you will be at risk of developing chronic diarrhea.

  • Long-term use of medicines

Some medicines that you need to take for a long time sometimes cause chronic diarrhea, such as antibiotics.


Diagnosis

To find out the exact cause of your diarrhea, your doctor may conduct a physical exam and review your medications as well as ordering:

  • blood test
  • stool test
  • flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy


Treatments

In many cases, diarrhea is mild and can resolve itself quickly without treatment. Common over-the-counter medicines you can use include loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate. However, if you have signs of infections with bacteria and parasites, over-the-counter medicines are not recommended. It also should be noted that Over-the-counter medicines to treat acute diarrhea in adults can be dangerous for infants, toddlers, and young children. Talk to the doctor for advice before you want to treat your child with diarrhea.

Treatments for persistent and chronic diarrhea

Your doctor will decide how to treat your persistent or chronic diarrhea based on its cause. If you have bacterial or parasites infections, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and medicines that target parasites. Conditions that cause chronic diarrhea, such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome may also be treated with medicines. Probiotics is a choice as well, though the use of it needs more studies.


Keyword: diarrhea.


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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.