You can say you have diarrhea if you pass stools of liquid consistency more than three times in one day. Diarrhea strikes all ages at one time or another. On average, adults can experience diarrhea as many as four times per year. Usually, when this condition presents it clears up on it's own after a day or two. This is considered acute or short-term diarrhea and usually will not last 3 weeks.
Chronic or long-term diarrhea can be dangerous and symptomatic of other concerns. Chronic diarrhea is that which lasts longer than three weeks it's usually related to the bowel function disorders.
When people have diarrhea, they often experience nausea, abdominal bloating, cramping and the frequent, urgent need go to the toilet. Some causes of diarrhea even present with blood in the stool and fever. What you can look for is dark stools, fever, blood or puss in stools. These are signs that there may be a concern.
Causes of Diarrhea?
There are several possible causes for disease some are short-lived while others are more severe and prolonged in nature.
- Bacterial infections can enter the body when they are ingested on tainted food or water. Some common bacteria that instigate bouts of diarrhea are salmonella, campylobacter, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Shigella.
- Hepatitis and Rotavirus are two viral infections that have diarrhea as a symptom of their presence. Others include Norwalk, Cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex viruses.
- Simple intolerance to particular foods can cause diarrhea. It's usually a component in the food such as food coloring, milk sugar (lactose) or other additives.
- Parasites are microscopic organisms that can be present on food or water in the digestive system. Some of the parasites that we might ingest are Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium and Entamoeba histolytica.
- Some medications like blood pressure, antibiotic and antacid medications that contain magnesium.
- Bowel disorders including Celiac disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause diarrhea.
- Surgeries such as gallbladder removal and stomach surgery. These changes to the digestive system can through things out of balance. Often times though, the root cause is not found, in part this is because the condition doesn't last long enough (and thankfully so) to be investigated.
Who Gets Diarrhea?
When you have diarrhea, your body expends excessive amounts of the fluids it requires for proper functioning. This condition of dehydration is not safe for anyone, and those who are at greatest risk for extenuating complications are the elderly and young children. Also, people who travel to foreign or undeveloped countries often succumb to bouts of diarrhea due in part to the change in diet, and in part to the higher instances of eating foods contaminated with parasites and bacteria. Usually, the more developed the country, then the less chance there is of eating contaminated foods.
Diarrhea in Children
The most common cause of acute diarrhea in children is rotavirus. Often times the diarrhea runs its course by day 8, or as quickly as day 5. Signs of dehydration in children include:
- Fever measuring 101.4° and higher
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Absence of saliva
- Sunken abdomen, eyes, or cheeks
Diarrhea in children is dangerous because they may react poorly to medications that are sold for treatment of the symptom. Diarrhea in newborns and infants can be lethal because the dehydration that they experience can kill them very quickly. For this reason, treatment for children focuses primarily on re-hydration. If your child doesn't get relief from the symptoms after 24 hours, then you should take your child to a doctor.
Other symptoms to look for are stools that contain blood or pus, or if the stool is black; fevers that run 101.4° Fahrenheit and above, and any dehydration symptoms.
You may be dehydrated if you're experiencing:
- Infrequent urination or dark colored urine
When Should I See A Doctor About Diarrhea?
In most cases, diarrhea is just uncomfortable. However, it can become dangerous when the dangers are long-term and severe enough. In severe cases hospitalization may be required. Get to your doctor if you have a high fever (102° F or more) with diarrhea or if your stool is dark and tarry, severe abdominal or rectal pain, dehydration or if your symptoms last longer than 3 days. Your doctor will probably perform tests to determine the cause of your diarrhea. This will help them to decide your course of treatment. Some of the tests include the following:
Physical examination and medical history; The doctor needs to be aware of eating habits and medications. Stool culture. This analysis will determine what harmful bacteria and other organisms or present in your stool, as well as any other signs of infection. Blood tests will help to determine which diseases are not present. Fasting will determine if allergies or food intolerances are a cause of your diarrhea. Sigmoidoscopy visually examines the inside of the lower part of the colon and the rectum. Colonoscopy allows the doctors to look at the entire colon.
What is the Treatment for Diarrhea?
With diarrhea, the most important action is to replace the fluids and electrolytes that are lost when you pass excess water in your stool. This will help to prevent or relieve symptoms of diarrhea as it runs its course. You want to allow diarrhea to end on its own because stopping it means forcing your body to retain toxins that need to be expelled.
Avoid greasy, fibrous foods, and things that are very sweet. Try not to drink dairy products as these may aggravate your diarrhea. Stick with mainly a liquid intake, and gradually return to soft foods like plain rice, baked skinless chicken, bananas. Remember to chew your food thoroughly as this is the first part of food digestion.
Diarrhea Prevention for Travelers
When you're traveling to foreign countries, there are different foods that may or may not agree with you. Such a thing is unavoidable. Some things you can do to improve your chances of staying well include:
- Avoid all tap water even for brushing teeth and making ice
- Eat shellfish or meat only when served hot
- Avoid raw and exotic fish and meat
- Avoid raw vegetables and fruit. It's less risky if it's fruit you need to peel and you wash and peel it yourself
- Avoid non-pasteurized dairy products including milk
- Avoid foods sold by street vendors
- Drink bottled water only if the seal is unbroken, and hot drinks like tea or coffee (remember not to add non-pasteurized milk)
Your doctor may direct you to take antibiotics or other immunizations before you travel. Don't skip this step. In the US, travelers can check with the Center for Disease Control to find out what's required for their specific dates and destination.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.