Learn The Basics About Diarrhea
Diarrhea is a common symptom that has a wide variety of causes. In general, experts classify diarrhea into two categories – acute or chronic diarrhea.
Acute diarrhea is usually a benign condition caused by a viral infection or some other digestive abnormalities. Conversely, chronic diarrhea can lead to serious complications if left untreated. It is defined in the medical literature as loose stools that last for at least four weeks.
In this article, we will discuss the common causes of diarrhea, how to make the diagnosis, and the common treatment options.
Causes of diarrhea
There are several causes of diarrhea, which significantly vary in severity.
Here are the most common causes:
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
The two major IBDs are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions manifest by the chronic inflammation of the intestines that translates clinically to:
- Bloody stool
- Severe abdominal pain
The treatment options for these conditions include anti-inflammatory medication and surgical resection of the bowel.
Celiac disease (CD) is a chronic autoimmune ailment characterized by an intense immune reaction after consuming foods that contain gluten.
CD causes diarrhea known as steatorrhea, which means fat-containing stools. The only treatment option for this disease consists of adopting a gluten-free diet.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome is a common condition that affects around 11% of the population globally. IBS symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal cramping.
The mechanisms of IBS are still unclear, which reflects on the absence of any curative treatment.
However, increasing fiber intake and other dietary modifications may help reduce the frequency and severity of IBS symptoms.
Usually, viral and bacterial infections do not cause chronic diarrhea. In most cases, diarrhea will last for a few days.
However, in the case of some parasitic infections (e.g., amebiasis), the infection may last for months and cause diarrhea.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can damage the stomach and intestinal walls.
Over time, this could lead to gastric ulcers and diarrhea. Typically, NSAIDs are not recommended for prolonged use; however, in the case of chronic pain (e.g., chronic back pain), patients might take these medications for months and even years.
Self-medication with antibiotics might disrupt the normal bacterial flora found in the intestine, which leads to bacterial overgrowth, and eventually, diarrhea.
Diagnosis of diarrhea
The diagnosis of diarrhea is usually straightforward.
Your physician will ask you a few questions to establish a timeline for your symptoms. He/she will then conduct a thorough physical examination to look for any signs that align with the suspected diagnosis.
Finally, your doctor may order a few blood and imaging tests to confirm or exclude the diagnosis.
Treatment of diarrhea
Depending on the cause of your diarrhea, treatment will vary. For instance, patients who have amebiasis will need to take antibiotics to treat their infection.
Fiber supplements can also be helpful since they relieve diarrhea due to their water-holding effect.
Losing a lot of fluids for an extended period of time could be very damaging to your body. One of the most important therapeutic options for diarrhea is sufficient hydration.
Additionally, diarrhea may also cause electrolyte loss in the feces, which need to be replenished by taking electrolyte drinks.
If severe enough, dehydration can be devastating for you and may lead to serious complications (e.g., irreversible brain damage, death).
Making dietary changes
If a specific dietary item is the cause of diarrhea, a person can try removing this food or beverage from their diet to see whether or not symptoms improve.
Once the diarrhea symptoms clear up, it may be possible to gradually start eating these foods again on an infrequent basis or in moderate amounts.
Diarrhea could be a challenging condition to deal with. It is vital to remember that it is just a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Therefore, treating the cause should be the main goal of management.
If you have ever dealt with diarrhea before, feel free to share your story in the comment section below.