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Diarrhea: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Sep 14, 2023

Diarrhea: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention : Medicine

Loose, watery, and maybe more frequent bowel motions, sometimes known as diarrhea, are a common problem. It's the only symptom in some cases. Occasionally, it may also be accompanied by additional symptoms including nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, or weight loss.

The positive aspect is that diarrhea often lasts only a few days. However, if diarrhea persists for more than a few days or even a few weeks, it usually indicates the presence of another issue, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or a more serious condition, such as an ongoing infection, celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

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Causes Of Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be brought on by a number of diseases, including:

  • Viruses. Norwalk virus, also known as the norovirus, enteric adenoviruses, astroviruses, cytomegaloviruses, and viral hepatitis are some of the viruses that can cause diarrhea. The most typical cause of severe childhood diarrhea is rotavirus. GI symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea have also been linked to the virus that causes coronavirus illness 2019 (COVID-19).
  • Parasites and bacteria. Diarrhea is brought on by exposure to certain bacteria, such as E. coli, or parasites through tainted food or water. In poor nations, diarrhea brought on by bacteria and parasites is frequently referred to as traveler's diarrhea. Another type of bacterium that can cause diarrhea is Clostridium difficile, generally referred to as C. diff. 
  • Medicines. Antibiotics are among the many medications that might induce diarrhea. Antibiotics eliminate illnesses by eliminating harmful bacteria, but they also eradicate beneficial microorganisms. This upsets the normal bacterial balance in your intestines, which can result in diarrhea or an illness like C. diff. Anti-cancer medications and antacids containing magnesium are other medications that cause diarrhea.
  • Intolerance to lactose. Milk and other dairy products contain a sugar called lactose. People who have trouble digesting lactose get diarrhea after consuming dairy products. As you become older, your levels of the enzyme that helps with lactose digestion decrease, which could make your lactose intolerance worse.
  • Fructose. Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found in honey and fruits. On occasion, it is employed to sweeten a variety of beverages. Fructose can result in diarrhea in people who have trouble digesting it.
  • Synthetic sweeteners. Some otherwise healthy persons may get diarrhea after consuming the artificial sweeteners sorbitol, erythritol, and mannitol, which are non absorbable sugars found in chewing gum and other sugar-free goods.
  • Surgery. In rare cases, surgery to remove the gallbladder or a portion of the intestine might cause diarrhea.
  • Additional stomach problems. Other conditions include IBS, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, microscopic colitis, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can also cause chronic diarrhea.

Symptoms Of Diarrhea

Diarrhea (loose, watery stools) may cause the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal discomfort or cramps.
  • Bloating.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Fever.
  • Stool with blood.
  • Stool with mucus.
  • Need to go to the toilet immediately.

Diagnosis Of Diarrhea

Your doctor will inquire about your medical history, evaluate the medications you are currently taking, perform a physical examination, and maybe order tests to identify the source of your diarrhea. Possible examinations include:

  • Examination of the blood. The degree of your diarrhea can be determined by a complete blood count test, electrolyte measurements, and kidney function testing.
  • Stool examination. To determine whether a bacterium or parasite is the source of your diarrhea, your doctor may advise a stool test.
  • Breath test for hydrogen. This kind of test can help identify whether you have lactose intolerance. Your breath is periodically tested for hydrogen after ingesting a beverage with a lot of lactose. When you exhale excessive hydrogen, you aren't adequately digesting and absorbing lactose.
  • Colonoscopy or a flexible sigmoidoscopy. Your doctor can view your colon by inserting a tiny, illuminated tube into your rectum. A tool included in the apparatus enables your doctor to do a biopsy, or a small sample of tissue collection, on your colon. While a colonoscopy lets the doctor see the whole colon, a flexible sigmoidoscopy only allows for a view of the lower intestine.
  • Upper endoscopy. Doctors use a long, thin tube with a camera on the end to examine your upper small intestine and stomach. They could remove a tissue sample for analysis in the lab.

 Treatment Of Diarrhea

Most of the time, light and straightforward diarrhea can be handled at home. If you take an over-the-counter drug like bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol® or Kaopectate®), you'll usually feel better relatively quickly.

However, over-the-counter medications aren't always the solution. If you have diarrhea and suspect an illness or parasite is to blame, you should contact a doctor right away for treatment. In general, you shouldn't take over-the-counter medications for diarrhea if you also have a fever or blood in your stool. 

If your diarrhea lasts a long period (a few weeks), your doctor will treat you for the underlying cause. This could involve a range of therapy modalities, including:

The majority of the time, diarrhea that is light and simple can be treated at home.However, over-the-counter medications aren't always the solution. If you have diarrhea and suspect an illness or parasite is to blame, you should contact a doctor right away for treatment. 

Your doctor will treat you for the underlying cause if your diarrhea lasts for a long time (a few weeks). This could involve a range of therapy methods, including:

Prevention Of Diarrhea

Wash your hands to stop the spread of contagious diarrhea. To guarantee adequate hand washing:

  • Wash frequently. Wash your hands both before and after preparing food. After handling raw meat, using the lavatory, changing diapers, sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose, wash your hands.
  • For at least 20 seconds, lather with soap. Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds after washing them with soap.
  • Use hand sanitizer. If a sink is out of reach, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Apply the hand sanitizer like you would hand lotion, making careful to cover both the front and back of both hands. Utilize a product that has at least 70% alcohol.

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