What is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is defined as an increasing* in the number of bowel movements daily or increasing* in the looseness of stools, either one or both of them.
- Diarrhea can be defined as passing loose stools more than five times daily or passing loose stools more than the patient’s usual bowel habit.
- Diarrhea can be acute; which lasts less than three weeks, or chronic; which lasts more than three weeks.
- Chronic untreated diarrhea may lead to different complications; mainly, dehydration, local irritation around the anus, and electrolytes disturbances.
- Diarrhea can be prevented with adopting healthy lifestyle, and it can be treated with some medications and homemade remedies.
Why Does Diarrhea Develop?
Patients with diarrhea usually have loose stools due to high amount of water.
In normal digestion process, high amount of fluids is mixed with food to make it easier to slip into the intestine; those fluids are secreted by the stomach, small intestine, gallbladder, and pancreas. In the colon, all the water content of food is absorbed to form hard stools.
High amount of water in diarrhea may be due to:
- Excessive secretion of fluids from the stomach, small intestine, gallbladder, or pancreas
- Anything that prevents the absorption of the fluid in the colon
- Rapid passage of food into the colon
What are the Types of Diarrhea?
Depending on the mechanism of diarrhea, there are five types:
- Secretory diarrhea in which the cause of diarrhea is excessive secretion of fluids in the bowel.
- Osmotic diarrhea, the cause of this diarrhea is the presence of some molecules in the colon that draw more fluids to it.
- Motility-related diarrhea in which hyperactive muscles in the colon causes rapid passage of food into the colon.
- Inflammatory diarrhea in which the cause of diarrhea is inflammation in the colon. This inflammation may be due to viral infections, bacterial infections, parasitic infections, medications-induced, or any other inflammatory causes.
- Very rare type which occurs exclusively with collagenous colitis, this disease causes scarring in the colon which prevents it from absorbing water.
Depending on the duration of diarrhea, it can be divided into:
- Acute diarrhea which lasts less than three weeks.
- Chronic diarrhea which lasts more than three weeks.
It is not that important to differentiate between different types of diarrhea depending on the underlying mechanism but it is very important to differentiate between acute and chronic diarrhea; as the causes and plan of management are totally different.
What are the Medications and Remedies of Diarrhea?
Most of patients with acute diarrhea need no treatment as the condition will clear up with few days. The major target in treating acute diarrhea is to rehydrate the body and to compensate for the lost electrolytes. Oral hydration is a great option for most cases.
Many drugs may be used to treat* diarrhea; for example, bismuth subsalicylate. Those drugs may decrease* the severity of diarrhea but they don’t induce recovery that’s why they are not routinely used.
Foods to Avoid During Diarrhea:
Some types of food must be avoided during diarrhea as they may increase* the severity of it; for example, dairy products, fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.
Foods to Eat During Diarrhea:
Some types of food can help to relieve diarrhea; such as, bananas, cooked carrots, boiled potatoes, plain rice, cooked chicken, and Toast.
What are Common Causes of Chronic Diarrhea?
Irritable bowel syndrome:
irritable bowel syndrome is a very common cause of chronic diarrhea nowadays. The exact mechanism is unknown but it may be related to the rapid passage of food into the colon.
The most common infectious cause of chronic diarrhea is Giardia lamblia.
Bacterial spread out of the colon:
If useful bacteria spread out of the colon to the small bowel, it may cause chronic diarrhea.
Some patients may develop chronic diarrhea after any infection regardless of its cause.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD):
Inflammatory bowel disease is a general term which describes either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, both of them may cause chronic diarrhea.
Colon cancer usually causes of constipation due to blockage in colon, with time, more water is excreted from the colon lining leading to loosening of the stools thus causing diarrhea.
The most common type of sugar malabsorption is lactose intolerance, which leads to a problem in digesting milk and its products thus causing chronic diarrhea.
Abuse of laxative:
Using laxatives in big uncontrolled way may lead to chronic diarrhea.
What are the Complications of Diarrhea?
- Dehydration is the most common complication after chronic diarrhea because of excessive water loss.
- Electrolytes disturbances which may lead to palpitation, muscle pain and many other problems.
- Irritation of skin around the anus leading to inflammation and itching.
When Should the Doctor be Called for Diarrhea?
- High body temperature: more than 38 C
- Pain in the belly
- Bleeding with diarrhea
- Other serious medical illness, for example, diabetes, hypertension, Etc
- Excessive amount of diarrhea with no improvement within 2 days
- Severe diarrhea accompanied with severe vomiting
- Chronic diarrhea
How Can Diarrhea be Prevented and Treated?
Following are some important tips to prevent diarrhea:
- Clean your hands properly
- Use good hand gels
- Don’t drink unknown water
- Don’t eat raw unwashed vegetables
- Don’t eat raw meat
Regarding the treatment of diarrhea, acute diarrhea should not be treated unless it had been complicated with dehydration or any other point mentioned above. The main aim of treating diarrhea is to prevent dehydration via drinking at least one litter of water daily.