Diarrhea | Causes, Symptoms and Treatments
Diarrhea is a medical condition characterized by the frequent passage of loose, watery stools which may or may not be associated with abdominal bloating and cramps. It is a common condition and an average person can expect to suffer from it once or twice in a year. it usually lasts for two to three days and responds well to over the counter medicines. However, occasionally, it may be severe enough to lead to dehydration and various other complications.
Classification of Diarrhea
According to physicians, diarrhea can be broadly classified into three categories. They are:
- Osmotic Diarrhea: This type results when something present in the gut draws out water from the body into the gut. Sorbitol is a good example of this type of substance. It is a component of sugarless candy and does not get absorbed by the gut. However, it draws water into the gut by the process of osmosis, leading to diarrhea.
- Secretory Diarrhea: In this type , the body releases water into the gut on its own. This is the most commonly encountered diarrhea in medical practice and usually occurs as a result of some infection or a side effect of certain medicines.
- Exudative Diarrhea: In this type, apart from water, the stool also contains blood or pus. It can be seen in people suffering from Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis, and certain severe infections.
Causes of Diarrhea
There are several factors which may lead to diarrhea. They are:
- Viral Infection: This is the most common cause of diarrhea. The viruses generally responsible for this are rotavirus, adenovirus and norovirus. Viral diarrhea is also called as stomach flu and lasts for 3 to 7 days. It is associated with abdominal cramps and low grade fever.
- Bacterial Infection: This is usually seen after eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. It is also known as food poisoning. The common bacteria which may lead to diarrhea include salmonella, shigella, campylobacter and E. coli.
- Parasitic Infection: Commonly involved parasites include Giardia, Entamoeba and Cryptosporidium.
- Chronic Intestinal Conditions: These include irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis and celiac disease.
- Side Effect of Certain Drugs: Antibiotics, weight loss drugs, antacids, cancer drugs and gout medicines are usually responsible for causing diarrhea.
- Intolerance to Certain Foods: Many people cannot tolerate artificial sweeteners and lactose.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
The common symptoms of diarrhea include:
- Watery stools.
- Abdominal cramps
- A sense of urgency to pass stools
- Nausea and vomiting
If the diarrhea is because of some serious underlying cause, there may be blood or pus in the stools, high fever and weight loss.
Treatment of Diarrhea
In most of the cases, diarrhea resolves on its own in two to three days. If the sense of urgency is too much to bear, patients can take over the counter medicines. These include Imodium, pepto-bismuth and kaopectate. The response to these medicines is usually good.
However, sometimes when the diarrhea is not responding to the general medicines, stool examination is advised. Antibiotics may be required if the underlying cause is bacterial infection.
In case of presence of blood or pus in stools, special investigations are required and treatment is directed towards the underlying cause.