Since 1976, diarrhea cases have been rising, making it likely that the nature of this disease is controversial. Diarrhea is primarily a symptom of severe illness but also dangerous to one’s health. On the other hand, it is more likely that diarrhea does not mean that someone has a sickness but is more likely due to the close contact one shares with people, which means germs or bacteria from one’s environment make their way into one’s body.
This article aims to deliver a comprehensive overview of diarrhea, its types, causes, and symptoms.
What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is the rapid movement of loose stools—three or more bowel movements a day, often described as a “liquid-like loose stool.”
Diarrhea is a familiar complaint among schoolchildren and may result from unclean food, a change in climate, excessive exercise, or coming into close contact with new people. It can be a mild or severe illness caused by bacterial, viral, parasitic, or other conditions. Medication side effects can also cause it.
Flu viruses, bacteria (proteus, amoeba, and coccidia), parasites (gonococcus and pseudomonas), and protozoa (paramecium) are examples of common causes. If left untreated, diarrhea can worsen and, in some cases, result in death. Diarrhea can also cause nausea, loss of appetite, and discomfort.
Causes of Diarrhea
It is generally not possible to identify the cause of most self-limited diarrhea. A virus infecting your bowel is the most common cause of diarrhea (“viral gastroenteritis”). Sometimes the infection is called “intestinal flu” because it lasts for a few days.
The following are other possible causes of diarrhea:
- Bacterial infection.
- Viruses, bacteria, and preformed toxins
- A diet that upsets the digestive system.
- Intolerances and allergies to certain foods (Celiac disease or lactose intolerance).
- Radiation therapy
Types of Diarrhea
Impairment of bowel movement that results in 3–4 episodes of loose or liquid-like stools a day is generally categorized as diarrhea.
Based on causes and symptoms, diarrhea is classified into four major types.
Osmotic diarrhea results from eating foods that draw water into your intestine instead of being absorbed. It is a considerable amount of watery or clear stools that last up to 10 days, are infrequent, and can be associated with fever, abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting. A very soft stool or one that is excessively runny (diarrhea of infancy) is typical and non-threatening. Malnutrition, antibiotics, and bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease can cause this type of diarrhea.
Ingredients that often cause osmotic diarrhea include the following:
- Dairy products contain lactose
- Sweeteners made with artificial ingredients, like aspartame and saccharin
- Sugars found in fruit juices
Medicines and medical treatments can also cause osmotic diarrhea, including:
- An anticancer drug
- A certain class of antibiotics
- Antihypertensive – medication
- High-dose radiation therapy
- Surgical removal of the gallbladder
- Laxatives containing salts like sodium phosphate, magnesium sulfate, and magnesium phosphate
Still, diarrhea generally occurs when the body is weakened or lacks the strength to fight infection, which can cause a person to lose 10% of their weight daily. The one-year-old infant, child, or teenager whose stool is described as very soft or excessively runny likely has osmotic diarrhea.
There is damage to the intestinal mucosa, with the consequent modification of food absorption. This type of diarrhea is characterized by persisting during fasting, and, in addition, it is usually accompanied by pathological products in the stool, such as blood or pus.
Usually, inflammatory diarrhea (exudative diarrhea) is caused by an infection. However, it can also be caused by other conditions, such as food allergies, celiac disease, eosinophilic gastroenteritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Exudative diarrhea is often chronic because the diseases that cause it are usually lifelong and long-term. As well as the presence of inflammatory diarrhea lasting over 14 days, chronic diarrhea must meet the following criteria:
- Stools that contain blood or pus.
- Weight loss or persistent/recurrent fever are accompanying symptoms.
It is the type of diarrhea that can persist with fasting. In the case of secondary diarrhea, there is an abnormality in the absorption of normal mucosa, as it may be increased or decreased. As a result, water loss equals sodium loss, and stool production exceeds one liter a day.
As a result of altered transport channels in the intestinal epithelium, increased electrolytes (mainly sodium, > 70 mmol/liter) are secreted into the intestinal lumen, dragging water with them. When bicarbonate is lost from the stool, generalized metabolic acidosis occurs, causing rapid breathing and fatigue.
Pathogens are the most common cause of secretory diarrhea. A virus, such as rotavirus or norovirus, causes 70% of secondary diarrhea cases. Other cases are caused by infections caused by certain bacterial strains, including Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, or Escherichia coli. These are spread by eating infected food or drinking unpurified water.
Nocturnal diarrhea is when you have loose, watery bowel movements that occur at night and disturb your sleep. A variety of factors can cause nocturnal diarrhea.
A mild case of diarrhea will pass after a couple of days. Chronic nocturnal diarrhea may also be the cause. You should consult your doctor if you have severe or chronic diarrhea.
In nocturnal diarrhea, symptoms include:
- Thin, watery, or loose stools
- Abdominal pain
- An upcoming bowel movement sensation
If you experience severe diarrhea, you may experience these symptoms as well as others, such as blood in your stool.
Diarrhea that lasts for longer than a month is considered chronic. Chronic diarrhea frequently happens at night and indicates a more serious underlying condition.
Sleep patterns can be disrupted when you suffer from nocturnal diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea can especially pose a problem in this regard.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
About 3–4 episodes of watery stools per day are a manifestation of diarrhea, but other symptoms can also accompany them. These include:
- Bowel discomfort
- Weight reduction
- Muscle aches
- Stomach ache
- Cramps in the abdomen
A person with diarrhea may also suffer from other conditions, some of which are serious. Symptoms that may also be present include:
- Stools with blood or pus
- Persistent vomiting
- Hydration deficit (dehydration)
In addition, diarrhea may indicate a more severe illness if any of these symptoms accompany it or if it is persistent.
A diagnosis may be made by monitoring the signs and symptoms of diarrhea. Doctors usually follow a certain pattern in order to treat diarrhea:
- Examine your body
- Check your medication list
- Check your stool or blood for bacteria, parasites, and other signs of disease.
- Check to see if diarrhea goes away by stopping eating certain foods.
- There may be other tests needed if you have chronic diarrhea.
Recommended Treatments for Diarrhea
A physician will treat diarrhea that lasts for a long time or is chronic along with its underlying causes. But there may be no need to treat mild cases of acute diarrhea.
Fluid therapy During Diarrhea
Dehydration or hypovolemia caused by gastrointestinal diseases can be treated with fluid therapy. When it comes to the adverse effects of diarrhea, both children and adults are prone to becoming dehydrated.
In this case, the body may become dehydrated due to frequent episodes of watery stools, and the overall electrolyte balance may be disturbed. Rehydrating the body is advised for this reason in order to support the body during times of stress and dehydration.
Depending on the patient’s condition, physical examination, and diagnostic results, a customized treatment plan should be recommended by a doctor. Specific abnormalities of the patient and the severity of the gastrointestinal disorder should be considered when selecting a particular fluid therapy.
The rehydrated solution comprises carbs (glucose) and sodium (salt). The most common rehydration solution for diarrhea patients is ORS (oral rehydration solution). But in cases of severe dehydration, the doctor may prescribe an intravenous rehydration solution.
ORS is a solution containing water, salt, and sugar. The small intestine absorbs the solution to replace lost water and electrolytes in the stool. A World Health Organization (WHO) report states that over 95% of cases of non-severe diarrhea can be safely and effectively treated with oral rehydration salts (ORS).
During diarrhea, fluid replacement and electrolyte replacement are crucial to prevent dehydration. It is recommended that adults who are experiencing diarrhea drink water, fruit juices, sports drinks, soft drinks without caffeine, and salty broths. You may begin eating soft, bland foods as your symptoms improve.
It is also possible to purchase antidiarrheal medications over the counter. Loperamide is one of these medications, while bismuth subsalicylate is another. The drug Imodium reduces the passage of stool by reducing motility. The drug is available both over the counter and online.
Pepto-Bismol relieves diarrhea in children and adults. Additionally, it can prevent traveler’s diarrhea. Because of their ability to reduce pathogen removal from the body through stools, antidiarrheal medications have been linked to the prolongation of bacterial infections.
The type of antibiotics you need to treat an infection or stop diarrhea will depend on the cause of the problem. In the case of diarrhea caused by bacterial infections, it can only be treated with antibiotics.
If the cause is a particular medication, switching to another one might help. Before changing medications, consult your doctor.
Diarrhea is most likely to be treated by a Brat Diet. When you’re having stomach problems, try a “BRAT” (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) diet. You can also use some other stomach-friendly foods:
- Dry cereal
- Saltine crackers
- Broth or soup
foods to avoid
- Artificial sweeteners
- Caffeinated drinks
- Spicy foods
- The fat substitute Olestra (Olean)
- Dairy products contain lactose
- Sweet cherries, prunes, and sugar-free gum
- High-fructose foods include grape juices, honey, dates, nuts, and figs.
Diarrhea and probiotics appear to be linked. They may prevent travelers’ diarrhea, and Diarrheal illness may be reduced by one day in children.
Consult your doctor for advice, as there are multiple strains and dosage forms. Typical dosage forms of probiotics are capsules, tablets, and powders. Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Saccharomyces boulardii are the most commonly studied probiotics for antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Despite extensive research, no evidence suggests that a multistrain preparation of bacteria prevents Clostridium difficile or antibiotic-associated diarrhea. In their view, it is necessary to better understand the causes and effects of antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Zinc supplementation is crucial for reducing the severity and duration of diarrhea in children.
When to Consult A Doctor for Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is not always dangerous but can signal more serious problems if it becomes severe. Do not hesitate to contact a doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Dehydration signs
- If you are an adult, you have diarrhea that has lasted more than two days.
- When diarrhea lasts longer than 24 hours for children
- Adults suffering from severe abdominal or rectum pain
- Fever of more than 102 degrees seeks medical attention.
- Bloody or pus-filled stools
- A black and tarry stool
Parents or caregivers should consult a doctor if their child has diarrhea. Infants and newborns are particularly vulnerable to diarrhea. Your Doctors Online has a team of professional doctors who can assist you 24 hours a day to control the symptoms and severity of diarrhea.
FAQs About Diarrhea Answered by Your Doctors Online Team
The risk of diarrhea is the same for everyone. Diarrhea isn’t uncommon for many people throughout the year. Most people are not concerned about it since it is so common.
In some groups of people, diarrhea can be severe, including:
1. Infants and children
2. Elderly adults
3. Medically ill people
Other health problems can arise if these groups suffer from diarrhea.
Generally, diarrhea resolves without intervention. If your diarrhea doesn’t get better and go away entirely, dehydration, an electrolyte imbalance, kidney failure, and organ damage could happen.