Diarrhea: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Diarrhea, characterized by loose or watery stools, is a common gastrointestinal ailment affecting people worldwide. Your stools will be loose and watery when you have diarrhea. Additionally, you might require more frequent toilet breaks.

Diarrhea is a prevalent issue. It usually goes away on its own within a day or two. If your watery diarrhea persists for longer than two days, you might have a more serious issue and need to seek immediate medical attention.

Types of Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be categorized into:

  • Acute diarrhea (Short term): diarrhea that clears up within a day or two. Having food or water contaminated by germs could be the cause of this. Alternatively, it could occur if you contract a virus.
  • Chronic diarrhea (Long-term): prolonged diarrhea lasting several weeks. Irritable bowel syndrome or another health issue could be the source of this. Intestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease may also be the cause. Chronic diarrhea can be brought on by some illnesses, such as parasites.
  • Persistent diarrhea: Persistent diarrhoea lasts about two to four weeks.

What Causes Diarrhea?

A number of things, including as infections, poor food choices, adverse drug reactions, and long-term illnesses, can cause diarrhea.

Acute diarrhea is largely caused by infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Salmonella, rotavirus, norovirus, and Escherichia coli are common offenders. These viruses can spread by ingestion or touch when they contaminate food, water, or surfaces.

Additional reasons include lactose intolerance, thyroid problems, malabsorption syndromes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For those who are vulnerable, dietary factors including excessive caffeine or alcohol use, stress, and anxiety can aggravate symptoms. Some people also experience  diarrhea due to:

  • Certain surgery on the stomach or gallbladder.
  • Recent use of antibiotics.

General Symptoms of Diarrhea

Consistently having loose, watery, or frequent feces is the common sign of diarrhea. There could be accompanying symptoms including nausea, bloating, urgency,  and cramping in the abdomen.

Stool may contain blood or mucus, electrolyte abnormalities, fever, sudden watery diarrhea, and dehydration in severe instances. The degree of symptoms varies according to the underlying reason and the health of the individual.

Signs and symptoms of severe diarrhea

Intense episodes of diarrhea could indicate a serious illness that requires medical attention from a professional in order to heal, such as an infection. Please seek medical attention if you experience the following signs and symptoms of diarrhea:

  • Severe stomach pain.
  • Fever.
  • Vomiting.
  • Blood or mucus in your stool.
  • Weight loss
  • Watery diarrhea

If you or your child exhibits any of the following symptoms of dehydration, get in touch with a healthcare professional:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Flushed, dry skin.
  • Headache.
  • Fewer than six wet diapers a day (infants).
  • No wet diapers or peeing for eight hours (toddlers).
  • No tears when crying (infants and toddlers).
  • Irritability and confusion.
  • Light-headedness and dizziness.
  • Fatigue or tiredness.
  • Dark pee, small amounts of pee, or no peeing at all.

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What is the Prevalence of Diarrhea

Diarrhea is common worldwide, particularly in underdeveloped nations with poor sanitation and hygiene practices.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diarrhea is a primary cause of illness and mortality, particularly in children under the age of five.

Diarrheal illnesses are a major cause of child mortality in resource-limited settings, accounting for millions of fatalities each year. However, diarrhea affects people of all ages and socioeconomic levels, albeit to variable degrees and frequencies.

How to Prevent Diarrhea

Preventing diarrhea entails addressing its underlying causes and implementing strategies to minimize exposure to infectious agents.

  • Hygiene practices such as regular handwashing with soap and water, or sanitizers, especially before eating and after using the restroom, or toilets.
  • Proper food safety measures, including thorough cooking of meats and avoidance of unpasteurized dairy products, help reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.
  • Access to clean drinking water and improved sanitation facilities is crucial for preventing waterborne infections.
  • Vaccination against common pathogens like rotavirus can also reduce diarrhea incidence, particularly in children. Education about proper hygiene, safe food handling, and breastfeeding promotion further contribute to preventive efforts.

How to Treat or Stop Diarrhea

Diarrhea medicines often depend on the severity as recommended by your doctor. The objectives of managing diarrhea are to reduce symptoms, avoid complications including dehydration, and, when necessary, treat underlying causes. By replacing lost fluids and electrolytes, oral rehydration therapy (ORT) using solutions containing glucose and electrolytes lowers the risk of dehydration.

Oral rehydration salts (ORS) packets that are sold commercially are accessible and reasonably priced, even in environments with low resources.

Antibiotics or anti-parasitic drugs may be recommended in situations of bacterial or parasite infections in order to get rid of the causing factors. To prevent antibiotic resistance and disturbance of the gut microbiota, however, indiscriminate use of antibiotics should be avoided.

By decreasing intestinal motility, antidiarrheal drugs such as loperamide might alleviate symptoms, but they are not appropriate in many situations, especially when infectious diarrhea is present.

Dietary changes are essential for managing diarrhea, especially focusing on healthy foods. Bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, and other simple, easily digested foods can help settle the stomach and firm up stools. This is known as the BRAT diet. It may be best to stay away from foods that are spicy, greasy, or high in dairy, particularly if you have a sensitivity to certain foods.

Related: How To Prevent Stomach Pain Naturally.

Can I stop diarrhea without taking anti-diarrhea medicine?

You can often get rid of acute diarrhea through lifestyle changes you can make at home.

  • Stay hydrated: These consist of drinking enough water, broths, sports drinks (Gatorade®), fruit juices that have been diluted and pulp-free, and sodas without caffeine. These beverages replenish the electrolytes and water that diarrhea causes you to lose. Electrolytes are compounds that support vital functions such as preserving your body’s fluid balance.
  •  Eat food high in soluble fiber: Some diets low in fiber cause stools to become more solid. Consider implementing the BRAT diet: brown rice, white rice, applesauce, and toast. Other healthy choices are potatoes, noodles, lean beef, fish, and poultry or turkey can prevent sudden watery diarrhea. When it comes to finding relief, altering your diet can really help.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine: The mild laxative action of caffeine-containing foods and beverages can exacerbate diarrhea. Avoid chocolate, coffee, carbonated drinks, and strong or green tea. Steer clear of alcohol as it can cause dehydration.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that cause gas: To avoid stomach pains, stay away from beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts, beer, and fizzy drinks. Diarrhea can occasionally cause temporary lactose intolerance. It’s a good idea to avoid dairy until your diarrhea goes away.

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When should I call my healthcare provider?

If you experience severe episodes of diarrhea that indicate a serious illness that requires medical attention from a professional in order to heal, such as an infection. Please seek medical attention if you experience the following severe signs and symptoms of diarrhea:

  • Severe pain.
  • If you have watery diarrhea more often.
  • Blood or mucus in your stool.
  • Dark pee, small amounts of pee, or no peeing at all.
  • You may feel thirsty, tired, or dizzy or, 
  • You become dehydrated.
  • You have diarrhea with rectal bleeding or black and tarry stools,
  • Fever, or vomiting.