The passage of loose or watery stools and/or an increase in the frequency of bowel movements. Poor food hygiene is a risk factor for this type of digestive condition.
Diarrhea is the production of stools (feces) that are more watery, more frequent, or greater in volume than is normal for a particular individual. Although not a disease in itself, diarrhea may be a symptom of an underlying disorder.
In some cases diarrhea is accompanied by abdominal pain, bloating, loss of appetite, and vomiting. Severe diarrhea can lead to dehydration that may be life threatening, especially in babies and elderly people. Short bouts of diarrhea, particularly if they are associated with vomiting are often caused by gastroenteritis or food poisoning. If diarrhea lasts more than three weeks, it usually indicates the presence of an intestinal disorder requiring medical attention.
What Are The Causes of Diarrhea?
Diarrhea that starts abruptly in a person who is otherwise healthy is often caused by contaminated food or water and may last a few hours to ten days. This sort of diarrhea often occurs during travel in a developing country, where food hygiene and sanitation may be poor. Diarrhea may also be caused by a viral infection which is spread by close personal contact. For example, infectious gastroenteritis is a common cause of diarrhea in babies and young children. People with reduced immunity, such as those with HIV infection, are more susceptible to infectious gastroenteritis, which also tends to be more severe in these patients. People taking drugs such as antibiotics may develop sudden diarrhea if the drugs upset the normal balance of bacteria in the colon (large intestine). Persistent diarrhea may result from longstanding inflamation of the intestine caused by disorders such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease or some conditions in which the small intestine is unable to absorb nutrients. Lactose intolerance, a disorder in which lactose (a natural sugar in milk) cannot be broken down and absorbed due to a deficiency of the digestive enzyme lactase, can also cause diarrhea. Infections with protozoal parasites, such as giardiasis and amoebiasis, can cause persistent diarrhea. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may produce abnormal contractions of the intestine, resulting in alternating episodes of diarrhea and constipation.
Treatment Of Diarrhea
In most cases, diarrhea clears up after a day or two. Other symptoms which may accompany diarrhea, such as headache, weakness, and lethargy are most often caused by dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration disappear as soon as lost fluids and salts are replaced. If your diarrhea lasts longer than 3-4 days you should consult your doctor who may request a sample of feces to search for evidence of either infection or unabsorbed nutrients. If the diarrhea persists for more than 3-4 weeks or if there is blood in the feces, your doctor is likely to arrange further investigations, such as contrast X-Rays of the intestines, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Specific treatments for diarrhea depend on the underlying cause. If you need to relieve your diarrhea quickly, your doctor may prescribe an anti-diarrhea drug, such as Loperamide. However, these antidiarrheal drugs should be avoided if the diarrhea is due to an infection because they may prolong the infection. Antibotics are only needed to treat persistent diarrhea that has a known bacterial cause.
A common dietary treatment for diarrhea is the BRAT diet. For the first 48 hours of the illness eat only bananas, boiled white rice, apples and dry white toast. Drink plenty of liquids to replace lost fluids.
How To Prevent Dehydration
For normal body functioning the body’s water and salt content must be kept at a constant level. During an attack of diarrhea or vomiting, the body can become dehydrated due to loss of large amounts of fluids and salts. Babies, children and elderly people are particularly vulnerable to dehydration, which can be reversed or prevented as follows:
- Drink plenty of fluids every 1-2 hours while symptoms last. Choose fluids such as diluted orange juice, weak sweet tea, soda or rehydration solution available over the counter as a powder to be reconstituted.
- Do not give children milk as it may prolong the diarrhea. However, if a breast-feeding baby is affected continue to breast-feed and give the baby additional fluids.
- Avoid the sun and try to keep cool in order to prevent further loss of body fluids in sweat.