Diarrhea: Meaning, Treatment, and Symptoms

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What is diarrhea?


Diarrhea occurs when a person suffers from repeated bowel movements which are loose and watery. It’s a very common condition and is not considered to be serious.
Many people get diarrhea once or twice each year. It normally lasts 2 to 3 days, and you can treat it with over-the-counter medicines.


What are the causes of diarrhea?


Usually, diarrhea is caused by a virus that infects your gut. Diarrhea is also known as intestinal flu or stomach flu.

Some common causes of diarrhea include:

  • contaminated food
  • alcohol abuse
  • diseases of the intestines (such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • eating foods that upset the digestive system
  • infection by bacteria (the cause of most types of food poisoning) or other organisms
  • laxative abuse
  • medications
  • allergies to certain foods
  • Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
  • overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • radiation therapy
  • some cancers
  • undergoing any surgery related to the digestive system
  • trouble absorbing certain nutrients also called “malabsorption”
  • diarrhea may also follow constipation, especially for people who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)


Who is prone to diarrhea?


Some people could be more prone to diarrhea than others, such as:

  • People suffering from illnesses like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
  • People undergoing cancer treatments
  • People who take certain medications such as laxatives, antacids, drugs that contain magnesium, NSAIDs (like aspirin and ibuprofen)
  • People who suffer from an intolerance of dairy products
  • People suffering from gluten intolerance
  • People who often take greasy fatty foods
  • Older people (above 65 years) who suffer from several digestive disorders


What are the symptoms of diarrhea? How is diarrhea diagnosed?


Some common symptoms of diarrhea include:

  • bloated stomach
  • cramps
  • thin or watery stools
  • the constant feeling that you need to have a bowel movement
  • nausea
  • vomiting

More serious symptoms include:

  • blood or mucus in your stool
  • weight loss
  • fever


Diagnosis


If you suffer from any of the symptoms of diarrhea, and home remedies do not seem to be working, you can consult your family doctor or a general practitioner. The doctor will conduct a general physical exam and may ask you to undergo certain tests to find out the cause of diarrhea.

The tests can include:

  • Blood test
  • Stool test to check for any bacterium or parasite which is causing your diarrhea.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to look at the lining of your colon and provide biopsies if no cause is evident for persistent diarrhea.


What are the complications of diarrhea?


The complications of diarrhea include:

  • dehydration which can be dangerous for children, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems.
  • severe abdominal pain and blood in stool
  • inability to control bowel movements
  • severe weakness
  • shock
  • kidney failure
  • acidosis (too much acid in the blood)


What is the treatment of diarrhea?


Diarrhea usually clears on its own without treatment. However, if it persists the doctor may prescribe antibiotics if the diarrhea is caused by bacteria or parasites. If it is a virus which is causing the condition antibiotics cannot help. The doctor may prescribe intravenous rehydration to replace the lost fluids and salts in the body in severe cases.

Would you like to consult a doctor for Diarrhea ?

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
I'm suffering from Diarrhea since today morning, I have taken Norflox Tablet and in food I'm eating Banana, boil rice and also drinking ORS.
What's more can I do????
Dr. Chethan R S
General Physician, Bangalore
I think the following measures took by you is quite enough. Drink plenty of oral fluids. Maintain hydration. If symptoms persists consult Physician...
Verified User
For around 2 1/2 weeks now, i've had diarrhea. I poop about 4 times a day. The Diarrhea ranges from watery to extremely watery. Please help me
Dr. Atul Sharma
Gastroenterologist, Delhi
Persistent diarrhoea can be due to Giardia, infection or inflammatory bowel disease. Avoid milk and fruits. Get stool routine and stool examination  for Giardia done.
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