Facts and Definition of Diarrhea
• Diarrhea is the frequent passage of loose, watery, soft stools with or without abdominal bloating, pressure, and cramps commonly referred to as gas or flatulence.
• Causes of diarrhea include viral and bacterial infections, as well as parasites, intestinal disorders or diseases, reactions to medications, and food intolerance.
• The main symptom of diarrhea is watery, liquid stools. In addition, other symptoms of diarrhea include:
o Stomach cramps
o Bowel movement urgency
• Diarrhea is usually diagnosed by the appearance of the symptoms, and no tests may need to be ordered. In some cases a doctor may order a stool culture, blood tests, a colonoscopy, or imaging tests such as X-rays or CT scans to determine an underlying cause.
• In most cases, diarrhea can be treated at home and it will resolve itself in a few days. Drink plenty of fluids, and follow the “BRAT” diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) to help ease symptoms. Take care to ensure infants and children stay hydrated. Electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte can be helpful.
• Over-the-counter (OTC) antidiarrheal medications may provide some relief of symptoms, including loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, etc.). Consult your doctor before treating diarrhea with these drugs, as some people may need to avoid them. Do not give them to children under 5 years of age.
• The prognosis for diarrhea is generally good and in most cases symptoms will resolve in a few days.
What Is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is the frequent passage of loose, watery, soft stools with or without abdominal bloating, pressure, and cramps commonly referred to as gas. It can come on suddenly, run its course, and be helped with home care to prevent complications such as dehydration.
• Diarrhea is one of the most common illnesses in all age groups and ranks along with the common cold as a main cause of lost days of work or school.
o People of all ages can suffer from the condition, and the average adult has one episode of acute diarrhea per year, and young children average two acute episodes per year.
• Diarrhea and related complications can cause severe illness. The most significant cause of severe illness is loss of water and electrolytes. In diarrhea, fluid passes out of the body before it can be absorbed by the intestines. When the ability to drink fluids fast enough to compensate for the water loss because of diarrhea is impaired, dehydration can result. Most deaths from diarrhea occur in the very young and the elderly whose health may be put at risk from a moderate amount of dehydration.
• Diarrhea can be further defined in the following ways:
o chronic diarrhea is the presence of loose or liquid stools for over two weeks;
o acute enteritis is inflammation of the intestine;
o gastroenteritis (stomach flu) is diarrhea associated with nausea and vomiting; or
o dysentery is diarrhea that contains blood, pus, or mucus.
What Causes Diarrhea?
Viral infections cause most cases of diarrhea and are typically associated with mild-to-moderate symptoms with frequent, watery bowel movements, abdominal cramps, and a low-grade fever. Viral diarrhea generally lasts approximately 3 to 7 days.
The following are the common causes of diarrhea caused by viral infections:
• Rotavirus is a common cause of diarrhea in infants.
• Norovirus (for example, Norwalk virus, caliciviruses) is the most common cause of epidemics of diarrhea among adults and school-age children (for example, cruise ship infection, schools, nursing homes, day care facilities, and restaurants).
• Adenovirus infections are common in all age groups.
Bacterial infections cause the more serious cases of diarrhea. Typically, infection with bacteria occurs after eating contaminated food or drinks (food poisoning). Bacterial infections also cause severe symptoms, often with vomiting, fever, and severe abdominal cramps or abdominal pain. Bowel movements occur frequently and may be watery and individuals may experience “explosive diarrhea” which is a very forceful, almost violent, expulsion of loose, watery stool along with gas.
The following are examples of diarrhea caused by bacterial infections:
• In more serious cases, the stool may contain mucus, pus, or blood. Most of these infections are associated with local outbreaks of disease. Family members or others eating the same food may have similar illnesses.
• Foreign travel is a common way for a person to contract traveler’s diarrhea. (Traveler’s diarrhea also may be caused by unfamiliar viruses or parasites.)
• Campylobacter, salmonellae, and shigella organisms are the most common causes of bacterial diarrhea.
• Less common causes are Escherichia coli (commonly called E coli) Yersinia, and listeria.
• Use of antibiotics can lead to an overgrowth of Clostridium difficile (C diff) bacteria in the intestines.
Parasites cause infection of the digestive system by the use of contaminated water. Common parasitic causes of diarrhea include Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica, and Cryptosporidium.
Intestinal disorders or diseases including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, microscopic colitis, and celiac disease, and malabsorption (trouble digesting certain nutrients) can cause diarrhea. Many of these disorders can cause the diarrhea to be yellow in color.
Reaction to certain medications can cause diarrhea including antibiotics, blood pressure medications, cancer drugs, gout medications, weight loss drugs, and antacids (especially those containing magnesium).
Intolerance or allergies to foods such as artificial sweeteners and lactose (the sugar found in milk) can cause diarrhea.
Alcohol abuse can cause diarrhea. Both binge drinking and chronic alcoholism may lead to loose stools.
Laxative abuse is one of the biggest self-induced causes of diarrhea, by taking too many laxatives, or taking them too frequently.
Diabetic diarrhea can be a complication of diabetes.
Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may cause loose stools and the diarrhea may last for up to three weeks after treatment ends.
Some cancers are more likely to cause diarrhea, including carcinoid syndrome, colon cancer, lymphoma, medullary carcinoma of the thyroid, pancreatic cancer, and pheochromocytoma.
Digestive surgery including stomach or intestinal surgery may cause diarrhea.
Running can cause diarrhea (sometimes referred to as “runner’s trots”). This usually happens after longer distances over 10K or particularly hard runs.
Diarrhea is a common type of gastrointestinal upset or infection. It causes frequent and excessive discharging of the bowels in the form of abnormally watery stools and stomach pains. If you or one of your children has recently developed diarrhea, the first question you’re likely asking is “Can you tell me how to stop diarrhea fast?”
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described above, you might be affected by an acute case of diarrhea. Acute diarrhea lasts one or two weeks while you’re temporarily sick. Or you might have chronic diarrhea, which persists for longer than several weeks. You have diarrhea is you have very loose or watery stools three or more times within 24 hours. Believe it or not, acute diarrhea can be one of your body’s best defense mechanisms against a temporary infection or virus. Although they’re uncomfortable and unpleasant to deal with, short-term diarrhea symptoms help rapidly expel harmful substances out of your GI tract before they have a chance to cause even more trouble or complications. (1)
Chronic diarrhea symptoms, on the other hand, are a bit different. They tend to come and go depending on other dietary and lifestyle factors. This includes the state of your immune system and the level of stress you’re dealing with. (2) Research shows that chronic/persistent diarrhea occurs in approximately 3 percent of people traveling to developing countries. Acute diarrhea is usually easy to treat without medication or serious intervention. However, chronic diarrhea is more problematic. It can cause dehydration and nutrient deficiencies if it isn’t properly addressed. (3) The good news is there are several steps you can take to naturally treat both types of diarrhea. Below you’ll learn about steps you can take to thicken your stool, rehydrate and overcome symptoms of diarrhea.
What Causes Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a natural reaction to dehydration, infection or toxins that need to be expelled from the digestive system. Examples include certain types of bacteria, parasites, food allergies or other microbes. One of the risks associated with diarrhea is that it can make you even more dehydrated and ill if you’re already sick. This is because it makes the body lose too much water and minerals, including electrolytes like sodium, too quickly.
If you’re not already familiar with symptoms that are typical of diarrhea, here are the most common:
• Frequent bowel movements, including going to the bathroom more than 1-2 times daily
• Watery feces, or “loose” stools
• Abdominal pains, cramping and sometimes stomach bloating,
• Sometimes nausea and vomiting
• Stomach pains and sometimes loss of appetite, trouble eating enough and/or weight loss
• Increased thirst, due to losing more water than usual when going to the bathroom frequently
• Sometimes symptoms of a fever depending on what’s causing diarrhea (such as an infection or illness)
• Symptoms of dehydration, which can include weakness, brain fog, upset stomach, dizziness and blood pressure changes
The key to learning how to stop diarrhea symptoms once they’ve started, and also preventing them returning in the future, depends on the underlying causes of the condition. Diarrhea can develop for various reasons, including dehydration, illnesses or food poisoning. Children, infants, adults and the elderly may all develop diarrhea for different reasons. This includes difficulty digesting foods properly, leaky gut syndrome, emotional stress linked to IBS, or not drinking enough water.
Diarrhea Risk Factors:
What causes watery diarrhea in adults most often? Causes and risk factors for diarrhea in adults include: (4)
• Bacterial infection. This can be passed from person to person, or picked up from contaminated surfaces.
• Food allergies, such as lactose intolerance (a type of sugar found in dairy). Experts believe that lactose intolerance is one of the most common reasons both children and adults suffer from diarrhea, especially when it’s chronic. What’s tricky about lactose intolerance is that it might not start until your adult years, or emerge due to hormonal changes like pregnancy.
• Drinking contaminated water, which can contain parasites, bacteria, etc.
• Food poisoning, due to eating a food contaminated with some type of harmful microbe.
• Dehydration (not drinking enough water or losing too much water from vomiting/illnesses or other causes).
• Poor digestion and related conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease.
• Overeating or drinking lots of liquids too quickly.
• Eating too much unripe or overripe fruit.
• Eating too much greasy food that is difficult to digest properly.
• Excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption, which can lead to dehydration and indigestion.
• Emotional stress and anxiety.
• Due to side effects of taking certain medications, especially antacids. Experts think that antacids are the most common cause of drug-related diarrhea because they contain magnesium, which can make stool too watery. If you take these meds to control acid reflux symptoms, it’s best to try and tackle the underlying causes of indigestion. Or if you must take medications, try those that don’t contain magnesium and lower your dose.
• Other supplements and medications including antibiotics, quinidine, lactulose and colchicine can also cause diarrhea. Taking too much vitamin C and magnesium in supplement form can do the same. (5)
And what is the cause of diarrhea most often in children and infants? Causes can include: (6)
• Rotavirus, which is the most common cause of diarrhea in children ages 2 and younger.
• Food allergies, including an allergy to milk (lactose intolerance) or other common culprits like peanuts, eggs, etc.
• Reactions to formula, or sometimes from breastfeeding if the mother consumed something that is hard to digest.
• Not consuming enough liquids, or consuming too much (such as juice).
• Bacterial infection, such as from touching dirty surfaces, toys, or other people and then putting their hands into their mouths. Infants in day care centers have been found to have a higher risk of contracting bacteria that can cause intestinal infections that lead to diarrhea.
• Taking antibiotics, which can cause changes in the gut/digestive system due to killing off healthy bacteria.
Remember that it’s normal for infants and babies to have bowel movements that are softer than those of adults. Their stool might also become different colors at times and their bowel movements may happen more than once daily (especially in infants), but this usually isn’t cause for concern. Talk to your doctor if your baby’s diarrhea lasts for more than several days, especially if you also notice signs of dehydration like: fewer wet diapers, dry eyes when crying, dry mouth, sunken eyes or lethargy, an usual foul odor in three or more diarrhea stools, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, or severe diarrhea while taking antibiotics. (7) Babies with diarrhea may also have a fever, seem very fussy, or seem disinterested in eating.
Conventional Treatments for Diarrhea
Unless you’ve had diarrhea symptoms for more than one to two weeks, especially if you aren’t sure why they’re happening and they don’t seem to be getting any better from treatments described above, it’s usually not necessary to see a doctor. If you do decide to get a professional opinion, your doctor will likely recommend some of the following treatments for diarrhea:
• Anti-diarrheal medications: These medications can help shut down diarrhea symptoms quickly, but this isn’t necessarily always a good thing. Because diarrhea is one of your body’s natural mechanisms for shedding toxins or microbes that have made their way into your GI tract, not allowing this “purge” to happen might mean that harmful bacteria stay inside your body longer. For this reason many doctors are now recommending that you “wait out” acute cases of diarrhea without taking medications if you can, as long as you’re not at risk for complications and try to combat dehydration naturally.
• Following an elimination diet: If you’re suffering from chronic diarrhea symptoms, then your doctor will likely recommend you try pinpointing which foods are problematic for you to digest by following an elimination diet. This means you avoid certain foods, such as dairy products, for a given period of time to determine if symptoms get better. Once you add the suspected food back into your diet you can track whether symptoms return and then make a judgement call about whether you should avoid the food for good.
• Staying hydrated and eating light, bland foods until you feel better (more on these treatments below).
The 5 Most Effective Diarrhea Remedies
We’ve all experienced bouts of diarrhea at some point in our lives. Common symptoms of diarrhea include frequent, watery stools, abdominal cramping, and bloating.
Diarrhea is often your body’s way of dealing with disruptions in your gastrointestinal system. Acute diarrhea lasts less than 2 weeks and can come from many sources, such as:
• a viral infection
• a bacterial infection
• food poisoning
• recent antibiotic use
• water contaminated with an infectious agent
Infectious diarrhea is common in young children and is often caused by a virus. Traveler’s diarrhea can occur if you travel to underdeveloped areas with contaminated water. Bacteria from improperly stored or cooked food are typical causes of food poisoning.
Read on for some of the most effective ways to manage acute diarrhea.
Hydration is very important when you have diarrhea. Dehydration from diarrhea can be fatal in young children and older adults. Continue breastfeeding or formula feeding infants who are experiencing diarrhea. Over-the-counter oral pediatric hydration solutions, like Pedialyte, are the recommended fluids of choice for children with diarrhea. Small amounts of hydration solutions should be given frequently. These formulas also come in popsicle preparations.
Studies have shown that for adults with mild symptoms of diarrhea, sports drinks and over-the-counter rehydration solutions are equally effective.
Alcohol, milk, soda, and other carbonated or caffeinated drinks should not be used for hydration, as they may make your symptoms worse.
Probiotics are sources of “good” bacteria that work in your intestinal tract to create a healthy gut environment. They’re essentially live microorganisms that exist in certain foods, including:
• aged soft cheeses
• beet kvass
• cottage cheese
• dark chocolate
• green olives
• sourdough bread
Probiotics also come in powder or pill form.
The good bacteria that live in your intestinal tract are necessary for the normal functioning of your gastrointestinal system. They play an important role in protecting your intestines against infection. When your system is changed by antibiotics or overwhelmed by unhealthy bacteria or viruses, you can get diarrhea. Probiotics can help with diarrhea by restoring the balance of bacteria in your gut.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast probiotic. While it’s not a bacterium, it acts like one. S. boulardii may improve antibiotic-associated diarrhea. It also seems to provide relief for traveler’s diarrhea. Studies suggest it may help your intestines fight off unwanted pathogens and ensure they’re absorbing nutrients properly. Because it is yeast, it should be used with caution in people with inadequate immune systems.
It’s important to receive proper medical care in cases of acute diarrhea. Talk with your health care provider before taking probiotic supplements to treat your diarrhea.
3. Over-the-counter drugs
With your doctor’s supervision, several over-the-counter medications can help with acute diarrhea if your symptoms are not severe. Common over-the-counter medications include:
• bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate)
• loperamide (Imodium)
While these drugs can relieve the symptoms of diarrhea, they don’t treat the underlying cause.
If you have chronic diarrhea, you shouldn’t use these drugs without your doctor’s consent. Chronic diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts more than 14 days. It often has different causes.
You should be especially cautious if your child has diarrhea. Dehydration resulting from diarrhea can be dangerous and can occur quickly in young children. Severe dehydration can be life-threatening. Over-the-counter medications are not recommended for treatment in children, so it’s important to talk to your doctor. Infants under 3 months old who have diarrhea should be taken to the doctor right away.
If you have bloody diarrhea, a fever, more than seven days of symptoms, intense abdominal pain, or diarrhea that is getting worse, you should seek medical attention.
4. Foods to eat
While it might sound counterintuitive to eat if you have diarrhea, eating certain foods can help alleviate your diarrhea symptoms and ensure your health doesn’t worsen from not eating. Stick to low-fiber “BRAT” foods that will help firm up your stool. These include:
• rice (white)
Other foods that are usually well-tolerated when experiencing diarrhea include:
• boiled or baked potatoes (with skins peeled)
• baked chicken with skin removed
• chicken soup (which also aids in rehydration)
5. Foods to avoid
Fried and greasy foods are usually not well-tolerated in people who have diarrhea. You should also consider limiting high-fiber foods like bran as well as fruits and vegetables that can increase bloating. Foods to avoid include:
• artificial sweeteners (found in chewing gum, diet soft drinks and sugar substitutes)
• ice cream
• green leafy vegetables
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