A Guide To Diarrhea: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

A Guide To Diarrhea: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

D
Dr. Davinder Singh
October 30, 20205 mins read

Key Takeaways

  • A loose stool can have many causes but can also only be a one-time occurrence, which is easily treated
  • it helps to know a few home remedies for diarrhea, here are some
  • be sure to try a loose motion remedy before self-administering any antibiotics for diarrhea

Diarrhea is among the more uncomfortable and distressing stomach problems you can face as it is normally accompanied by pain and the possibility of dehydration. In such cases, the first symptom is loose motion, meaning the passing of a watery stool.

What is diarrhea?

Eliminating waste from your body through bowel movements is a normal part of daily life. However, if you experience loose or watery stools, it is referred to as diarrhea. This is a common condition that typically resolves on its own without the need for medical intervention.

Diarrhea is a common condition that a range of factors can cause. It is characterized by the frequent passing of loose and watery stools. It can also be accompanied by symptoms such as bloating, abdominal cramping, and nausea. While diarrhea is often self-limited and resolves on its own within a few days, it can cause discomfort and inconvenience in the meantime. You may feel a sense of urgency to use the bathroom more frequently than usual and experience abdominal pain. It is essential to stay hydrated and seek medical attention if your diarrhea persists or worsens.

Although most cases of diarrhea are temporary and do not cause significant issues, however in some cases, it can lead to severe complications. These complications can include dehydration, which occurs when the body loses a considerable amount of water; electrolyte imbalances, which can be caused by the loss of essential minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium; and kidney failure, which occurs when the kidneys do not receive enough blood or fluids. When you have diarrhea, you lose water and electrolytes along with your stool, which is why it is necessary to drink plenty of fluids to replace what has been lost. If you do not address dehydration, it can become serious and even life-threatening. Therefore, it is important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing diarrhea and are concerned about potential complications.

A loose stool can have many causes but can also only be a one-time occurrence, which is easily treated with common home remedies for loose motion or loose motion medicine. However, if loose motions persist even after administering loose motion treatment, then it is possible to have a condition called diarrhea. This is when the lining of the intestine is either unable to absorb any fluid or continually secrets fluid. There are quite a few causes of diarrhea, but only 3 main types of diarrhea.

If your child is experiencing severe diarrhea, it is of the utmost importance to contact their healthcare provider as soon as possible. Diarrhea can be especially dangerous for children, especially young children, as they are more prone to dehydration than adults. It is crucial to keep your child hydrated to help prevent dehydration. However, over-the-counter medications are not generally safe for children, and all treatment should be directed by their healthcare provider. Several options can help keep your children hydrated, such as breast milk, formula, or electrolyte drinks like Pedialyte®. However, the best choice for hydration may vary depending on your child's age and specific needs, so it is essential to consult a healthcare provider before administering any new liquids or treatments. If you have any concerns about your child's diarrhea, do not hesitate to reach out to their healthcare provider for guidance and advice. It is always better to be safe and seek medical attention rather than take any unnecessary risks with your child's health.

Types of diarrhea

Acute diarrhea

Acute diarrhea is a type of diarrhea that is characterized by loose, watery stools and typically lasts for a short period of time, usually no more than one to two days. This type of diarrhea is the most common and is generally not a cause for concern as it usually resolves on its own within a few days. Treatment is usually not necessary for acute diarrhea, and it goes away on its own without any intervention.

Persistent diarrhea

Persistent diarrhea is a type of diarrhea that lasts for an extended period, typically spanning two to four weeks. It is characterized by loose, watery stools that do not go away even after a few days, like in the case of acute diarrhea. A variety of factors, such as certain medications, underlying health conditions, or infections, can cause persistent diarrhea.

Chronic diarrhea

Chronic diarrhea is defined as diarrhea that lasts for an extended period, usually more than four weeks, or occurs regularly over a long period of time. It is characterized by loose, watery stools that persist or recur over a prolonged period.

These conditions can affect anyone and, if left untreated, can have adverse effects on health and general well-being. This is why is absolutely important to know what diarrhea is caused by and the common symptoms associated with it. To add to that, it also helps to know a few home remedies for diarrhea, as the disease can pass with adequate intervention. To arm you with this knowledge, here are a few pointers.

Causes of diarrhea

Diarrhea can be caused by several factors and this is why, before administering any form of treatment, doctors perform a physical examination. In doing so, they may also inquire about your medical history as diarrhea can also be a side-effect of medication. Additionally, knowing the causes of diarrhea can also push you to try home remedies for stomach pain and loose motion, which can offer relief. Here are the main causes of diarrhea.

  • Bacteria and parasites

Organisms such as the Salmonella bacteria or the Cryptosporidium parasite present in contaminated foods can cause infection that leads to diarrhea.

  • Medication

Antibiotics destroy all bacteria, good and bad, thus disrupting the natural balance in the intestines. A side effect of this can be diarrhea.

  • Lactose intolerance

Lactose is a type of sugar found in dairy products and is hard to digest for some, which causes loose motion.

  • Fructose and artificial sweeteners

Similar to lactose intolerance, an inability to digest fructose or artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol can cause diarrhea.

  • Viruses

Rotavirus, cytomegalovirus, viral hepatitis, and Norwalk virus are common viruses that cause this condition.

  • Digestive disorders

Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and microscopic colitis often cause chronic diarrhea.

  • Surgery

Surgeries in the abdomen or gallbladder removal can also cause distress that results in diarrhea.

  • Malabsorption

Incomplete absorption of certain nutrients like sugars can cause server cases of diarrhea, even explosive diarrhea.

Symptoms of diarrhea

While frequent loose motions are the first sign of this condition, there are other symptoms that usually follow as well. Pay attention to these as they can lead to serious complications if ignored. Here are the symptoms you can expect to experience with diarrhea:

  • Frequent loose, watery stools
  • Blood or mucus in the stool
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • General weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness
  • Bloating
  • Headache
  • Associated weight loss

Treatment for diarrhea

In some cases, remedies for loose motion treatment at home can work to relieve the symptoms of diarrhea. However, if you’re uncertain of the best way to address the condition, it is important to seek medical care. These are the typical treatments that you can expect for diarrhea.

Oral hydration or intravenous (IV) rehydration

The first and best way to treat diarrhea is to rehydrate the body. With this condition, large amounts of fluids are lost, and this loss should be treated first to avoid complications that can arise due to dehydration. Here, the doctor may suggest replacing the lost fluids with fluids rich in essential minerals, salts, and electrolytes. These help restore the body back to normal. However, if oral rehydration doesn’t work, for instance, if it causes vomiting, your doctor may resort to intravenous (IV) rehydration.

Antibiotics

Given that infection is among the causes of diarrhea, a quick way to treat it is by the use of antibiotics. These are administered based on the cause – whether the disease is due to a bacteria or parasite. If it is found that a virus is responsible for the condition, then antibiotics will not help.

Readjusting your current medication

Diarrhea can also be caused by medication and doctors may readjust your current dosage to reduce this side effect. If this doesn’t work, you may be advised to switch over to new medication altogether.

How do you diagnose diarrhea?

In most cases of mild diarrhea, medical attention is not necessary as the condition will resolve on its own over a fixed period of time. To manage mild diarrhea, it is crucial to focus on supportive care measures such as staying hydrated and following a bland diet.

However, more severe cases of diarrhea may require medical attention. In these cases, your healthcare provider may order diagnostic tests to identify the cause of the diarrhea and determine the appropriate course of treatment. These tests may include the following:

  • A detailed medical history: Your healthcare provider may ask about your family history, current physical and medical conditions, travel history, and any sick contacts you may have had to help identify potential causes of your diarrhea.
  • A stool test: A stool sample may be collected and tested for the presence of blood, bacterial infections, parasites, and inflammatory markers.
  • A breath test: A breath test may be used to check for lactose or fructose intolerance, as well as bacterial overgrowth in the digestive tract.
  • Blood test: It may be performed to rule out medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, celiac sprue, and pancreatic disorders as potential causes of diarrhea.
  • Endoscopic evaluations: An upper and lower endoscopic evaluation may be conducted to examine the digestive tract for any organic abnormalities, such as ulcers, infections, or neoplastic processes.

Can diarrhea be prevented?

With the below-mentioned steps, you can reduce your risk of developing diarrhea:

  • Practice good hygiene: Washing your hands thoroughly with soap after using the bathroom and after handling food is a simple but effective way to prevent diarrhea. This is especially important when travelling to areas with less developed sanitation systems.
  • Get vaccinated: Some types of diarrhea, such as rotavirus, can be prevented through vaccination. The rotavirus vaccine is typically given to infants in several doses during the first year of life.
  • Store food properly: To prevent diarrhea caused by foodborne illness, it is important to store food at the proper temperatures and avoid consuming items that have gone bad. Additionally, ensure to cook food to the recommended temperature and handle all foods safely to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Be careful what you drink while travelling: Traveller’s diarrhea is a common ailment that can be caused by consuming water or other beverages that have not been properly treated. To reduce your risk of developing this condition while travelling, avoid drinking tap water, using ice cubes, brushing your teeth with tap water, or consuming unpasteurized milk, milk products, or juices. Additionally, be cautious when consuming foods from street vendors, raw or undercooked meats (including shellfish), and raw fruits and vegetables. If in doubt, choose bottled water or beverages that have been boiled first, such as coffee or tea

Diarrhea in babies and young children

Children are especially vulnerable to developing diarrhea and becoming dehydrated, which can be serious and potentially life-threatening. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diarrhea and its complications are the leading cause of death among children under the age of five, accounting for approximately one in nine annual child deaths worldwide.

If you notice any of the following symptoms of dehydration in your child, it is important to call their doctor or seek emergency care as soon as possible:

  • Decreased urination: Children who are dehydrated may urinate less frequently than usual, or their urine may be dark yellow in colour. It is important to pay attention to your child's urinary habits.
  • Dry mouth: Dehydration can cause your child's mouth and throat to feel dry and parched. They may also have dry or sticky saliva.
  • Headache: Dehydration can cause a headache, which may be accompanied by other symptoms such as dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Fatigue: Children who are dehydrated may feel tired or lethargic and may not have the energy to engage in their usual activities.
  • Lack of tears when crying: Children who are dehydrated may not produce tears when they cry, or they may produce very few tears.
  • Dry skin: Dehydration can cause the skin to become dry and flaky, and it may feel cool to the touch.
  • Sunken eyes: If your child's eyes appear sunken or are surrounded by dark circles, this may be a sign of dehydration.
  • Sunken fontanel: Your child has a fontanel (a soft spot on the top of their head) and may appear sunken if they are dehydrated.
  • Sleepiness: Children who are dehydrated may feel more sleepy or lethargic than usual.
  • Irritability: Dehydration can cause children to become more irritable or fussy than usual.

It is important to be vigilant for symptoms of dehydration in children, as this condition can quickly become serious if left untreated.

Risk of spreading infection

Acute diarrhea is a type of digestive disorder characterized by frequent and watery bowel movements. Many cases of acute diarrhea are caused by infectious agents, such as viruses, which can easily be transmitted to others through various means. For example, viruses may be spread through direct contact with faeces or vomit from an infected person. It can also spread through contact with a contaminated object or surface. In some cases, the virus may also be transmitted through airborne particles generated by vomiting or diarrhea.

It is important to practice proper hygiene by washing your hands carefully after going to the toilet to mitigate the risk of infection. Using an alcohol-based handwash solution, available from pharmacies, may be more effective at reducing the spread of infection than soap and water and is less drying to the skin.

If you are experiencing acute diarrhea, staying at home as much as possible is advisable to prevent the spread of infection to others. You should also avoid visiting hospitals and nursing homes and refrain from swimming in public pools. Following these precautions can help reduce the risk of transmission and protect yourself and others from illness.

Are there any foods that can help my diarrhea go away?

If you are experiencing diarrhea, there are certain dietary changes you can make to help firm up your stools. One approach is to focus on low-fibre foods, which are less likely to irritate the digestive system and help make your stool solid. Some examples of low-fibre foods that may be helpful in this situation include:

  • Potatoes
  • White rice
  • Noodles
  • Bananas
  • Applesauce
  • White bread
  • Chicken or turkey without the skin
  • Lean ground beef
  • Fish

It is important to note that these are not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. It is always a good idea to speak with a healthcare provider if you are experiencing persistent diarrhea or other digestive symptoms. However, incorporating these types of foods into your diet may help alleviate your diarrhea and support your overall digestive health.

Home remedies for diarrhea treatment

To effectively reduce the symptoms or relieve yourself of diarrhea altogether, you can try these home remedies.

  • Rehydrate with sports drinks or rehydration solutions

Avoid dehydration at all costs. Simply consuming water isn’t enough, you need additional salts too. So, consider alternatives like sports drinks, rehydration solutions, broths or even juices.

  • Consume foods with probiotic content

Foods like yoghurt, pickles, cottage cheese and sourdough bread have ‘good’ bacteria, which help restore the gut and intestine to normal.

  • Eat low-fibre foods to firm up the stool

Stick to the BRAT diet – bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast – and other bland, easy-to-digest foods like crackers.

  • Avoid greasy and high-fibre foods

Apart from fried food, even vegetables like broccoli, chickpeas, and beans, which are otherwise good for you, should be avoided when trying to treat diarrhea at home.

Whether you’re experiencing a case of traveller’s diarrhea or if you’ve fallen sick at home, be sure to try a loose motion remedy before self-administering any antibiotics for diarrhea. Ideally, you should only consider medications for such a condition under advisement of a doctor as this eliminates possibilities of any future complications.

In case of any doubts, you can find, book & consult a doctor from the comfort of your home, on Bajaj Finserv Health. View doctors’ years of experience, consulting hours, fees and more before booking an e-consult or in-person appointment. Apart from facilitating appointment booking, Bajaj Finserv Health also offers health plans for your family, medicine reminders, healthcare information and discounts from select hospitals and clinics.

A Guide To Diarrhea: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment banner
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Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.

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