Diarrhea refers to the passing of loose, watery stools, with this possibly happening more frequently. Although it can have complications, it is not a problem to worry a lot about in most cases.
Some of the symptoms that you may observe from this issue, in addition to watery stools, include:
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Mucus in stool
- Blood in stool
There are two main types of diarrhea: acute and chronic. Acute diarrhea is the most common variant and lasts a few days, after which it may disappear even without treatment. The chronic version lasts for weeks or longer and often suggests a serious underlying condition.
There is another type known as traveler’s diarrhea. Experts say people usually get this variant when visiting developing countries where they may be exposed to harmful microorganisms.
People have different food allergies. The bodies of some persons react in an undesirable way and could produce symptoms, including diarrhea, after eating certain foods.
Allergy to dairy products – usually described as lactose intolerance – is a common example. People who find it hard to digest milk products may develop diarrhea after consuming them. The problem often worsens in these people as they grow older.
Foods containing fructose, such as honey, fruits, and fruit juices, may lead to diarrhea in people that can’t digest this type of sugar easily. A wide variety of foods and soft drinks include this sweetener as corn syrup.
Apart from fructose, other artificial sweeteners can produce intolerance and, in turn, diarrhea. Among these are sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and xylitol.
The presence of harmful microorganisms in the body can exhibit diarrhea as a symptom. Infections with parasites, bacteria, and viruses may lead to the problem.
A wide range of viral infections can have this symptom. Rotavirus, norovirus, and Norwalk virus are among the many viruses that can lead to it. Diarrhea is also one of the symptoms linked to the COVID-19 virus.
The consumption of food or water that is contaminated with bacteria and parasites can cause diarrhea. Notable among the causative bacteria are Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Clostridium difficile. Examples of parasites whose infections can lead to the symptom include Cryptosporidium enteritis and Entamoeba histolytica.
Some of these infections make it harder to digest certain foods – that is, they cause food intolerances. That is why they can lead to loose, watery stools.
A variety of conditions of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract show this symptom. These are the culprits in many chronic cases. Examples include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Microscopic colitis
Bacterial overgrowth in the intestines can cause chronic diarrhea as well.
If you frequently experience diarrhea and have had surgery in the past, such an operation may be to blame. Medical experts say that abdominal surgery is a possible cause of chronic cases of the symptom. These procedures include those involving the intestines, liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, or appendix.
The medicines you take may make you vulnerable to diarrhea. Antibiotics are good examples of them. These drugs can disrupt the normal, healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines. They make a person more likely to be infected with Clostridium difficile, a common cause of chronic diarrhea.
Antacids, such as those containing magnesium, and anti-cancer medications also often have diarrhea as a side effect. The association with cancer drugs may be a reason this symptom is linked to certain forms of cancer.
Dehydration and malabsorption can result from diarrhea. These can be serious concerns, especially when they affect young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Without proper care, they can be life-threatening.
Dehydration symptoms in adults include:
- Dark-colored urine
- Excessive thirst
- Dry mouth
- Urinating less than normal
- Being lightheaded or dizzy
In children, the following signs can suggest dehydration:
- Feeling very thirsty
- Not having a wet diaper for three or more hours
- High body temperature exceeding 102 F
- Crying with no tears
- Sunken eyes or cheeks
Signs of malabsorption in both children and adults include bloating, gas, changes in appetite, and unexplained weight loss. It can also make your poop appear greasy or smell very bad. More about what different stool colors mean go here!
How Can You Treat Diarrhea?
The right approach to dealing with this symptom will depend on its underlying cause. Therefore, your doctor will usually start with a physical examination and evaluation of your medical history. You may also have to undergo a variety of tests to pin down the specific cause.
Based on what your health practitioner finds out, you may be prescribed antibiotics, probiotics, or medications to treat the underlying conditions. Intravenous therapy is also given in some cases of severe diarrhea.
If what you are having isn’t a chronic problem, you may be able to manage it on your own. There might be no need for any medication in such an instance.
One of the proven ways to check acute diarrhea is by altering your diet. Keep away from fried or fat-rich foods and those that make you gassy. Try to eat more foods like bananas, white rice, potatoes, noodles, white bread, and applesauce.
Avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine, which is mildly laxative in nature. Coffee, green tea, and diet soda are examples of such. Instead, drink more water and electrolyte replacement fluids, such as sports drinks.
Sitz bath, petroleum jelly, and patting can also help if your diarrhea is accompanied by itching, burning, and other discomforts.
You will do well to seek urgent medical care at once if your diarrhea leads to serious dehydration or malabsorption.
Diarrhea – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diarrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20352241)
Symptoms & Causes of Diarrhea | NIDDK (https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea/symptoms-causes)
Diarrhea: Types, Causes, Complications & Treatment (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4108-diarrhea)