Diarrhea – An Overview

Diarrhea is frequent watery or loose bowel movements that deviate from the normal pattern. The average adult has about four bouts of diarrhea a year. It is a more serious problem in young children and older adults. Diarrhea is a very common cause of hospitalization for children. It accounts for 9% of the hospitalizing in the United for States for Children under five years old.

Diarrhea is classified as acute or chronic. Acute diarrhea is diarrhea that last less than 2 weeks and chronic last longer than 2 weeks. Most causes of diarrhea last 2-3 days. This chapter will look at acute diarrhea as chronic diarrhea could take up a whole book.

What causes diarrhea

Acute diarrhea is most commonly caused viruses in the gastrointestinal tract, but can also be caused by antibiotic use, bacterial or parasitic infections, food allergies or food poisoning. A few points to keep in mind about the causes of acute diarrhea include:

o Viral infections present with diarrhea that lasts 2-3 days with no blood in the stool.

o Eating foods that bother the stomach and intestines can cause diarrhea. Sometimes keeping a food diary/bowel movement diarrhea can help you determine which foods cause diarrhea

o Parasites such as Guardia can present with loss of appetite, abdominal bloating and cramping and foul smelling stool.

o Some medications that cause diarrhea include: laxatives, medications for heart burn, antibiotics, magnesium containing products and alcohol.

o Bacterial infections that commonly cause diarrhea include: Clostridium difficile (often occurs after taking antibiotics), Camphylobacter and E. Coli (common cause of food poisoning). These infections presents with fever, blood in the stool and white blood cells noticed in the stool by the doctor.

o Food poisoning can result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

o Dietary factors that lead to chronic diarrhea (but should be considered in acute diarrhea) include: lactose intolerance, Lactose intolerance is associated with gas, bloating, explosive diarrhea,

o Breastfeeding can cause loose stools

o Traver’s diarrhea is common in those who go to Asia, Africa, central or south America and the Middle East. It present with diarrhea, abdominal cramping.

o Partial bowel obstruction can cause diarrhea

o Constipation results in a hard stool that liquid stool can work its way around resulting in diarrhea.

Who needs to see a doctor

o Dehydration (Unable to keep fluids down, dark urine or reduced urine output, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, dizzy when standing and dry mouth)

o Diarrhea with lethargy or confusion

o Blood, mucus or pus in the stools

o Abdominal pain

o High fever – greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit or prolonged fever

o Weight loss

o Those who are very young or very old

o Those with diabetes, heart or kidney disease

o Those with AIDS, cancer or organ transplants

o Pregnancy

Most cases of diarrhea are self-limiting and the use of medications to stop diarrhea is generally not recommended.

Becoming knowledgeable about symptoms and disease is an important part of having a successful health care experience. Individuals must have a basic understanding of his or her disease. The better you understand your diseases the better you can partner in your medical care.