What is Diarrhea? Understanding your Health.
Everyone has diarrhea occasionally. Diarrhea is an increase in the frequency of bowel movements, stools that are not well formed or both. Symptoms can be very different from patient to patient.
Stool is made up mostly of water. Even so, the amount of water in stool each day is generally no more than 200 ml or 7 ounce (a little less than a cup). When stool consistency contains more water than this, it is called diarrhea.
What causes Diarrhea?
There are many causes of diarrhea. Fortunately, this change in bowel habits usually does not last long and clears up on its own. In these cases, it is assumed that is was caused by a virus or even “something I ate.” Whenever diarrhea lasts more than two or three weeks, a patient should seek medical advice. Among the many known causes are:
*Food: Many people have certain foods that may cause diarrhea for them. For hot peppers lovers, diarrhea often occurs the morning after. Some people are intolerant of milk and milk products, so even small amounts of the milk sugar lactose can cause diarrhea. Large amounts of fatty foods cause diarrhea in other people. The easy solution in all these instances is to avoid the food that causes the diarrhea.
*Unintentional laxative use: Many people used laxatives but sometimes may not know it. The names for the usual chemical stimulants are Milk of Magnesia, magnesium (Epsom salt), cascara (Nature’s Remedy) and senna or sennosides (ex-lax, Senokot). Magnesium can be inadvertently taken in various over the counter preparations such as Maalox or Mylanta. Be sure to check the labels! Sorbitol, an artificial sweetener used in sugar-free gum and prepared foods such as jams and jellies is also a laxative.
*Prescription Drugs: If a change in bowel habit occurs after taking a new drug, contact your physician. In particular, antibiotics are known to cause diarrhea that can sometimes be severe. Diarrhea can develop up to one month after taking antibiotics.
*Infection: There are over 1000 different bacteria that normally live in the large intestine and many of them provide health benefits to the body. There are also many viruses and other bacteria that do not usually live in the intestine that find their way into our bodies and cause diarrhea. Fortunately, these infections usually come and go on their own. Some bacterial infections usually come and go on their own. Some bacterial infections, such as salmonella, are serious and require medical evaluation. Salmonella commonly comes from contaminated poultry but thoroughly cooking poultry can reduce the risk. Parasites, such as amoeba and giardia can also attack the intestines. Giardia is found in wild animals and in contaminated streams and well water. For people infected with the HIV virus, there are a number of infections that can occur in the intestinal tract. Close medical follow-up is always required in these instances. Viral infection is probably the most common cause of short-term diarrhea and fortunately, it usually clears up on its own.
Traveler’s Diarrhea: This cause of traveler’s diarrhea is a bacteria called Escherichia coli (abbreviated E. Coli). It most often occurs in developing countries where sanitation is not good. This infection can often be prevented by avoiding fresh, uncooked produce and fruits. Fruits that have protective skins, such as oranges, are safe. Tap water in any form, especially ice, should be avoided. Bottled beverages are recommended. Contact your physician before traveling to these countries for more information on prevention and treatment.
Diseases: There are certain intestinal disorders that can cause chronic diarrhea. These include ulcerative and microscopic colitis. Crohn’s disease and even colon cancer. These are all serious diseases that require careful medical attention and treatment. This is why you should see a physician if you have diarrhea that last an extended time.
Stress and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): IBS is a problem that occurs when the intestines especially the colon, do not contract in a smooth, rhythmic manner. The contractions can be too fast and strong, in which case diarrhea occurs or they may be weak and slow and result in constipation and diarrhea. Emotional stress often aggravates these symptoms.
How is Diarrhea Diagnosed?
The diagnosis and treatment of diarrhea may be very simple, such as discontinuing a problematic food or an antacid that contains magnesium. In some cases, finding the cause may be more difficult. Blood and stool tests may be needed and in some cases, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy is required to visually inspect the colon with a lighted, flexible tube. The physician will choose tests based on the details of the individual patient case, including how severe the diarrhea is and how long it has lasted.
Whenever diarrhea last more than two or three weeks, seek medical advice.
How is Diarrhea Treated?
There are simple things that can be done at the beginning of an episode which may reduce symptoms. Drinking only liquids and avoiding solid food, caffeine and dairy products may be helpful. Over the counter medications such as Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate or Imodium can also be tried. For explosive or persistent diarrhea, treatment will depend on the cause. Fortunately, the cause of diarrhea can almost always be found and effective treatment is then usually available.
Diarrhea is a common problem which is usually not serious. If it is severe or persistent, the patient should consult a physician for further evaluation. By working closely with the physician, effective treatment is almost always available.
Disclaimer: This information was taken from the Diarrhea what causes it? pamphlet and I give MEducate by GI Supply full credit for all of this information. Please call your physician for more information if you are having problems with diarrhea.