The majority of the time, diarrhea can be a temporary symptom that resolves on its own within 48 hours, but sometimes, it can last long and signal a serious health issue.
Consult a healthcare professional in case of the following:
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than seven days
- Increased frequency of motions despite over-the-counter medications
- Severe abdominal pain
- Black or tarry or bloody stools
- High fever (higher than 102°F [38.9°C])
- Severe nausea and/or vomiting
- Weakness or tiredness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Signs of dehydration such as:
For infants and toddlers, if diarrhea lasts for more than 24 hours or six or more stools in a day, medical intervention is necessary.
What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is the passage of loose, watery stools, with or without pain, for two or more times a day.
It is a common condition that affects a large number of people, both adults and children, and usually is of no concern other than distress and inconvenience.
Diarrhea can be of two types:
- Lasts for one to two days
- Usually, no intervention is needed
- Lasts for four weeks or more
- Diarrhea on and off for a long period
Symptoms of diarrhea
Depending on the cause, along with diarrhea, you may have additional symptoms such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Uncontrolled bowel movements (increased urgency and frequency to defecate)
- Loss of appetite
How is diarrhea diagnosed?
Diarrhea is diagnosed in the following ways:
- Medical history
- Stool sample (to analyze signs of infection and presence of blood)
- Blood tests
- Rectal examination
How to prevent diarrhea
You can take the following measures to prevent diarrhea:
- Maintain hygiene by washing hands with soap and water after visiting the washroom and before eating or cooking food.
- Disinfect the toilet seat and handles after each episode of diarrhea.
- Maintain food hygiene by washing kitchen surfaces and utensils regularly.
- Avoid intake of raw or undercooked foods.
- Always cook food thoroughly.
- Avoid unpasteurized milk and dairy products.
- Check seals of water bottles and canned foods.
- Do not use expired food cans.
- Vaccinate children against rotavirus.
How is diarrhea treated?
Most cases will resolve within a week, but excessive water is lost in the stools that may lead to dehydration if not diagnosed early or left untreated.
- Drink plenty of water to keep the body hydrated.
- Drink fluids that contain salt and sugar.
- Avoid heavy, oily, spicy, and processed foods.
- Consume soft, semisolid, and bland foods.
- Consume fruit juices, soups, and broths.
- Use an oral rehydration solution to avoid dehydration.
- Take rest.
- Take over-the-counter medications such as loperamide.
- Taking probiotics (yogurt) speeds up recovery.
- Limit tea and coffee intake.
- Rice water is an effective way to make stools firm and prevent dehydration.
- Try the BRAT diet that stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast (white bread).
If the above methods do not suffice, consult a healthcare professional who may prescribe:
- Antidiarrheal medicines:
- Slow down muscle movements in the gut, increase water absorption make stools firmer, and reduces the frequency
- In case of specific bacterial infection and severe diarrhea
- To relieve additional symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramps, and fever
- Intravenous fluids and electrolytes:
- In severe cases of dehydration, hospital admission is inevitable
Complications of diarrhea
If left untreated, diarrhea could lead to the following complications:
- Dehydration (loss of water)
- Electrolyte imbalance (loss of sodium, potassium, and magnesium)
- Kidney failure due to hypovolemia
What causes diarrhea?
Diarrhea can be caused by different reasons including:
- Food poisoning due to Escherichia coli, salmonella, or shigella
- Anxiety (nervous diarrhea)
- Food allergies (foods that contain gluten or milk)
- Gastroenteritis (stomach flu) caused by:
- Viruses such as norovirus or rotavirus
- Bacteria such as campylobacter and Clostridium difficile, often due to contaminated food
- Parasites such as Giardia intestinalis that causes giardiasis (spreads through contaminated water)
- Traveler’s diarrhea (during travel in areas of poor hygiene)
- Medications such as:
- Antibiotics clindamycin and erythromycins
- Metformin (antidiabetic)
- Proton pump inhibitors
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- Statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs)
- Chemotherapy medicines
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Coeliac disease
- Lactose intolerance
- Diverticular disease
- Bile acid malabsorption
- Colon cancer
- Removal of gallbladder
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Minesh Khatri Diarrhea Symptoms WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/diarrhea-symptoms
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Mary Gavin Diarrhea KidsHealth: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/diarrhea.html
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