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Diarrhea

What is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is loose, watery, frequent bowel movements resulting in the elimination of water and salts from the body and can result in dehydration. Diarrhea can be acute or chronic. Acute diarrhea lasts for a few days, whereas, chronic diarrhea lasts for many days and is usually associated with an intestinal disorder such as inflammatory bowel disease. 

Symptoms of Diarrhoea

The symptoms depend on the underlying cause. Typical symptoms include:

  • Loose, watery stools
  • Frequent stools
  • Sudden urge to evacuate stools
  • Bloody stools
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping, bloating and pain

Diarrhea, when left untreated, can quickly lead to dehydration, especially in the young and elderly.  Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Dry skin and mouth
  • Dark urine
  • Sunken eyes and lack of tears while crying (children)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irritability and confusion

Causes of Diarrhoea

The causes of diarrhea include:

  • A food allergy or intolerance
  • Reaction to certain medications
  • A viral or bacterial infection
  • A parasitic infection
  • An intestinal disease
  • Surgery of the abdomen
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Certain cancers

When to see a doctor?

You need a consultation by a healthcare provider if your symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea lasting for 24 hours or more
  • A fever (101F) for more than 24 hours
  • Blood or pus in stools
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Unable to replace the loss of fluids from the body

Diagnosis of Diarrhoea

Your doctor asks about your symptoms, takes your medical history, and performs a complete physical exam. The following tests may be ordered:

  • Imaging tests such as X-ray or colonoscopy to diagnose intestinal abnormalities
  • Stool culture test to confirm the presence of an infection or parasites
  • A blood test for food allergy

Treatment of Diarrhoea

Treatment depends on the severity of diarrhea, your age, current health condition, etc. The treatment options include:

  • Replacement of lost fluids and salts
  • Medications to treat infections
  • Medications to treat underlying symptoms
  • Limiting beverages such as coffee or tea
  • Eating low-fibre home-cooked food
  • Eating fermented foods containing active Lactobacillus cultures 
  • Ointments to treat discomfort around the anus

Prevention of Diarrhoea

Diarrhea can be prevented by:

  • Washing your hands with sanitizers thoroughly before preparing or eating food.
  • Avoiding improperly cooked food.
  • Avoiding raw vegetables or fruits that are not washed thoroughly.
  • Using filtered or boiled water for drinking.
  • Getting vaccinated for bacterial or viral infections.
  • Checking travel warnings to prevent traveler’s diarrhea.
  • The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Baylor University
  • Houston Methodist, Houston
  • American College of Gastroenterology