Know the basics
What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is characterized by loose, watery stools or a frequent need to visit the bathroom. Depends on how long it lasts, there are three forms of diarrhea:
- Acute diarrhea lasts for a few days up to a week.
- Persistent diarrhea lasts around 3 weeks.
- Chronic diarrhea lasts for more than 4 weeks.
How common is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is very common. The average adult has diarrhea four times a year. Everyone, regardless of age and gender can have diarrhea.
It is also one of the most common reasons for people to seek medical advice, as it can range from being a mild and temporary condition, to one that can threat life. When diarrhea lasts too long without being treated, it can be a sign of serious disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of diarrhea?
The common symptoms of diarrhea are:
- Loose and watery stools;
- Stomach pain;
- Stomach cramps;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Loss of appetite;
- Constant thirst;
- Bloody stools;
- Large volume stools;
- Constant need to visit the bathroom.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. You may experience only one of them or any combination of all of them. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Diarrhea in babies and young children
Diarrhea is a serious illness to your babies. It can cause severe dehydration and results in life-threatening condition in a very short time. You should contact your doctor if you see these symptoms in your child:
- Decreased urination;
- Dry mouth;
- Dry skin;
Seek immediate medical treatment immediately if any of the following apply to your child:
- Symptoms of dehydration such as cold hands and feet, pale skin, infrequent urine, irritability or drowsiness;
- High fever;
- Stools contain blood and pus;
- Black and tarry stools.
Diarrhea in adults
You should contact your doctor if you have the following symptoms:
- Dark stools that might indicate blood in your stools;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Sleep deprivation;
- Severe dehydration;
- Weight loss.
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
Know the causes
What causes diarrhea?
There are many causes of diarrhea. Potential causes may include:
- Food intolerance, such as lactose intolerance;
- A food allergy;
- A side effect of certain medications;
- Infection with bacteria, viruses or parasites;
- Intestinal disease.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for diarrhea?
Besides medical diseases that cause diarrhea, a few daily habits can cause diarrhea. There are many risk factors for diarrhea, such as:
- Irregular hand-washing after going to the toilet;
- Unsafe food storage and preparation;
- Irregular kitchen and toilet cleaning;
- Unclean water supply;
- Eating cold leftovers;
- Do not wash hands with soap.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is diarrhea diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and consider your medical history when identifying the causes of your diarrhea. Your doctor may ask you some questions, such as:
- How are you feeling?
- How often do you need to go to the toilet?
- What food have eaten recently before having diarrhea?
- Whether you are taking any medication recently?
- What are other symptoms that you are experiencing?
In some cases, they may request you to do additional tests to know more about your condition. These tests may include:
- Blood tests;
- Urine and stool tests;
- Rectal examination.
How is diarrhea treated?
For low-stage diarrhea, the treatment usually requires supplying lots of fluids to make up for the amount that is lost. This means that you need to drink more water or electrolyte replacement beverages, such as sports drinks. In more serious cases, you may get fluids into your body through intravenous therapy. If your diarrhea is caused by bacterial infection, you doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
You doctor or pharmacist may suggest using an oral rehydration solution (or oral rehydration therapy – a type of fluid replacement used to prevent or treat dehydration especially that due to diarrhea) to prevent dehydration. Rehydration solutions can provide your body with glucose, salt and other important minerals that are lost during dehydration. Oral rehydration solution is suitable for both children and adults, which is also available at local pharmacies without prescription.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage diarrhea?
According to nutritionists from Stanford Health Care, the following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with diarrhea:
- Drink fruit juice without added sugar;
- Use high-potassium foods such as banana, potatoes;
- Use high-sodium foods and liquids such as broths, soups, sport drinks, and salted crackers;
- Eat foods rich in fiber, such as bananas, oatmeal, rice;
- Limit creamy, fried and sugary foods, which would worsen your diarrhea;
- Avoid caffeine, tea and soft drinks;
- Avoid dairy products and food rich in magnesium.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
Diarrhea: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/158634.php. Accessed June 12, 2016.
What causes diarrhea? http://www.healthline.com/symptom/diarrhea. Accessed June 12, 2016.
Diarrhoea. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Diarrhoea/Pages/Treatment.aspx. Accessed June 12, 2016.