What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the condition when the bowel movements become loose or watery. The definition of diarrhea is passing loose or watery bowel movements more frequently than usual. Diarrhea occurs when the intestinal lining is unable to absorb fluid, or it actively secretes fluid. Infection and inflammation are the major causes of diarrhea, along with many other reasons. 

 

This is a common problem that usually lasts 1-2 days and goes away within a week without any special treatment. It often goes away with the help of a few home remedies. However, it is important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids in diarrhea. Diarrhea can range its severity from slightly watery feces with a brief abdominal discomfort to longer-term, extremely watery faeces and abdominal cramps.

 

What symptoms are related to diarrhea?

Symptoms associated with diarrhea include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thirst
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • An urgent need to go to the toilet
  • Bloating
  • Lack of energy
  • Passing less urine than usual
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

 

What causes diarrhea?

 

Diarrhea may have different causes, including the following:

 

Infection: Most commonly, infectious diarrhea is caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites by person to person. Consuming contaminated food and beverages causes infectious diarrhea. In chronic cases, it can be a sign of an inflammatory bowel condition or infection.


Food intolerance (such as lactose intolerance): Some people may suffer diarrhea after having food products containing lactose, fructose, or artificial sweetener.

 

Bowel infections: Such as irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease, etc.

 

A change in diet

 

Overconsumption of alcohol

 

Certain medications

 

Malabsorption: Due to problems in the pancreas

 

Acute diarrhea is a common problem and affects nearly everyone at some point. It usually goes away within a few days.


Chronic diarrhea lasts for a more extended period — usually more than two weeks and is often a sign of an underlying illness.

 

When to see a doctor?

 

Babies, young children, and the elderly with diarrhea are at a high risk of dehydration, hence they should be monitored closely and may require medical attention. If diarrhea lasts for more than a few days, it may be an indication of a more serious condition


Babies under three months with diarrhea should be taken to see the doctor.


People with diarrhea should seek a doctor’s help if they experience:

 

  • Bright red blood or mucus in the diarrhea
  • Diarrhea that is very dark, tar-like and smelly
  • Diarrhea with a pale or greasy with a foul smell
  • High temperature
  • Diarrhea that is getting worse in amount and/or frequency or lasting longer than 48 hours especially in children
  • Symptoms of dehydration (such as increased thirst, urinating less than usual, dizziness, lethargy in children)
  • Repeat round of vomiting
  • Diarrhea as a result of taking medication
  • Severe pain in the abdomen
  • Chronic illness, such as diabetes

 

How is diarrhea treated?

 

Diarrhea usually goes away without treatment after a few days, because the immune system automatically fights off the infection. The best thing one can do is to rest at home.

 

BRAT diet is suggested: Banana, rice, and toast

 

Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. People can keep themselves hydrated by doing the following:

 

Drink enough fluids such as water, oral rehydration fluids, diluted cordial, diluted soft drink, or juice (one part juice to four part water). Take small frequent sips of fluid if feeling nauseous.

 

Chronic dehydration may need to be treated in the hospital with intravenous fluids.

 

If an individual is experiencing pain, they should get medical help.

 

Prevention of diarrhea

 

The best way to prevent diarrhea spreading is to maintain good personal hygiene, especially for sick people.

 

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water while handling food, before eating and after using the toilet.

 

If anyone has had diarrhea and the cause has not been identified, they should not return to work, school, or childcare until they have had no symptoms for 24 hours. They may need to stay home for the next 48 hours until the cause has been identified.

 

Do not share personal items - such as towels, toothbrushes, flannels, face cloths, etc.

 

Steer clear of handling or preparing food for others if experiencing vomiting or diarrhea until the symptoms stop.

 

While someone is unwell, they should stay away from people who are more vulnerable at the risk of infections, such as newborn babies, pregnant women, older people, and those with a lowered immune system.

 

Diarrhea self-care

 

People can eat regular light meals that may include plain biscuits, potatoes, rice, or toast. One should try to avoid caffeine, alcohol, fatty food, very sweet or high fiber foods. Dairy products may also trigger diarrhea because of the lactose content. Yogurt and buttermilk may help with diarrhea by replacing the bacteria the bowel needs to function normally.

 

It is very important to stay hydrated since an individual loses a lot of fluid in diarrhea.

 

Drink plenty of clear and diluted fluids (1 part juice to 4 parts water). Avoid undiluted juice because of sugar content.

 

Rehydration drinks are available in the pharmacy and supermarkets. These drinks provide the exact balance of water, sugar, and salt that the body needs. Sports drinks and energy drinks should not be considered as a rehydration fluid option as the sugar content is high in such beverages. 

 

Sources:
https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/diarrhoea
https://www.mydr.com.au/gastrointestinal-health/diarrhoea#:~:text=Diarrhoea%20is%20when%20your%20bowel,or%20it%20actively%20secretes%20fluid.