Having unusual bowel movements is something that everyone can relate to. In the case of diarrhea, the causes are usually nothing to be too worried about. However, there are still some steps you can take to relieve some of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with this condition. In addition, it’s important to be aware of any signs that indicate that the diarrhea could be caused by something more serious.
Diarrhea is a term used to describe bowel movements that consist of loose, watery stools. Generally, diarrhea is also marked by having more bowel movements than usual, requiring frequent trips to the bathroom. The volume of stool in certain bowel movements may be much more than usual as well. People of all ages can get diarrhea, including small children.
There are two main types of diarrhea:
- Acute diarrhea typically lasts for about one or two days, and will go away on its own.
- The second type is chronic diarrhea, which refers to bouts of diarrhea lasting for at least four consecutive weeks. This type of diarrhea is more serious and generally requires medical treatment. In either case, having diarrhea causes individuals to lose significant amounts of water and salts from their body, and may lead to dehydration.
There are several key signs associated with diarrhea. Those with this condition often experience the following symptoms:
- Loose, watery stools
- Frequent bowel movements
- Increased volume of bowel movements
- Abdominal pain or cramping
For most people, the symptoms of diarrhea are very uncomfortable but tolerable. In most cases, the symptoms will go away within one or two days. When symptoms persist beyond that, medical attention may be necessary.
Causes And Risk Factors
Diarrhea is a relatively common condition that most people experience from time to time. Part of the reason this condition is so common is because there are several causes of diarrhea that individuals may encounter in their daily life. Those potential causes include:
- Digestive disorders/problems: Having Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or any other condition which affects the digestive system can cause diarrhea. Additionally, there are certain foods which may trigger diarrhea in those who have trouble digesting a particular substance. For example, those who have difficulty digesting fructose may get diarrhea after eating fruits or honey, and those with lactose intolerance may get diarrhea after drinking milk or eating dairy products. Artificial sweeteners have also been known to cause diarrhea in some individuals.
- Bacteria and parasites: When a person ingests food or water that has been contaminated with bacteria or parasites, they may experience diarrhea as a result. This is more common among people who are traveling to developing countries since they may be more likely to ingest tainted food. Some of the common bacterial causes of diarrhea are salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter.
- Viruses: Certain viruses are known to cause diarrhea, including Norwalk virus, viral hepatitis and viral gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”). In children, the rotavirus is a common cause of acute diarrhea.
- Medications: Certain medications may include diarrhea as a potential side effect, including antibiotics.
- Surgery: Some people get diarrhea after having surgery on the abdominal area or having their gallbladder removed.
Diarrhea is not always preventable, but there are a few steps you can take to help avoid getting viral diarrhea. The most important step is to keep your hands clean to avoid the spread of germs or certain viruses. Wash your hands after using the bathroom, handling uncooked meat, changing diapers, sneezing, blowing your nose and coughing. Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer when washing it’s available.
You should also take steps to ensure that your food is not contaminated. Store foods properly in the refrigerator or freezer, and keep food preparation surfaces clean. Additionally, use the refrigerator to thaw frozen food rather than placing it out on the counter.
Finally, when traveling, you can help prevent diarrhea by only eating thoroughly cooked foods and avoiding raw fruits and vegetables. You should also stick to bottled water and soda, beer or wine that is still in its original container. You can also ask your doctor about taking antibiotics that will help prevent traveler’s diarrhea.
Diarrhea usually goes away on its own, but you can help yourself feel better and possibly get rid of diarrhea faster by using certain home remedies. First, make sure you drink plenty of clear liquids, including water and broths. Eat semisolid and low-fiber foods like toast, eggs or rice, adding them into your diet slowly until your bowel movements are normal again. Avoid dairy, fatty foods and high-fiber foods for a few days. You can also take over-the-counter medications like Pepto-Bismol or Imodium A-D to relieve your symptoms.
If at-home treatments don’t do the trick, ask your doctor about other ways to relieve your diarrhea. That may include taking antibiotics or changing the medications you take. A doctor may also be able to help you replace fluids and salts that your body has lost from the diarrhea.
The following signs indicate that there may be a more serious underlying cause of diarrhea which needs to be treated immediately:
- Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
- Severe abdominal or rectal pain
- Bloody or black stools
- Body temperature of over 102 degrees Fahrenheit
- Dehydration caused by diarrhea (look for excessive thirst, dry mouth, severe weakness, lightheadedness or dark-colored urine)
It’s important to note that certain instances of diarrhea require medical attention rather than home remedies. Also, be sure to replenish and fluids lost due to diarrhea by constantly drinking water or sports drinks to avoid dehydration.