If you are suffering from frequent, abnormal, or watery stools, it is diarrhoea. The illness is usually caused due to bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Sometimes, even digestive distress can cause chronic diarrhoea in most individuals. Diarrhoea is different from breastfeeding babies who pass loose and sticky stools, which is normal for them.
Diarrhoea is the most common symptom of food poisoning and a health issue suffered by millions of people. The level at which this illness can affect a person ranges from mild and temporary to life-threatening. Children below the age of five years are most likely to be affected severely because of diarrhoea. It is the second-largest cause of death in this age group.
We are here to look at the different diarrhoea causes, diagnosis, treatments, and prevention. Let us begin by understanding its symptoms.
Besides watery and abnormal stools, the patient suffering from diarrhoea can show the following symptoms.
In cases of extreme diarrhoea, the person can show the following symptoms.
Blood of pus in the stool
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, the chances are that you are suffering from chronic diarrhoea. Get medical assistance immediately before it severely affects your health any further.
When it comes to diarrhoea in babies or young children, parents can look out for the following symptoms.
Lack of tears when crying
It is imperative to take your child to a doctor as soon as possible before these symptoms get any severe. In extreme cases of diarrhoea, the child might be experiencing the following.
Diarrhoea for more than 24 hours
Fever of 102°F (39°C) or higher
Stools containing blood
Stools containing pus
Stools that are black or tarry
These symptoms are highly concerning and need medical assistance immediately.
As stated earlier, diarrhoea is caused due to bacteria, viruses, and parasites. It is a gastrointestinal tract infection. Some of the most common causes of acute diarrhoea are the bacteria Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, and Escherichia Coli. Some chronic diarrhoea cases are known as functional diarrhoea. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common cause of functional diarrhoea. The symptoms of IBS include cramping, abdominal pain, abnormal bowel activity (that is diarrhoea).
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is another common cause of functional diarrhoea. It leads to conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease where there is blood in the stool. Besides this, a few other significant causes of chronic/functional diarrhoea are as follows:
A type of diarrhoea that is common in adults. It is known to be developed because of inflammation.
The first type of diarrhoea is because of impaired nutrient absorption. Whereas, the latter one is because of impaired digestive function. An example of the same is Celiac disease.
Chronic diarrhoea is most likely due to a vast travel history or use of various antibiotics. Certain bacteria and parasites can also cause this infection.
Using laxatives and other drugs, which also includes antibiotics, tend to trigger this type of diarrhoea.
At times, hormonal changes or related factors can cause diarrhoea. It is observed in Addison’s disease and carcinoid tumours.
Neoplastic diarrhoea is a type of infection linked to several gut cancers.
Once the causes of diarrhoea are understood, let us discuss how this disease is diagnosed and the tests your doctor may suggest.
Your doctor will seek answers to a few questions before confirming that you are suffering from diarrhoea. These questions are as follows:
Do you take any medication?
What is your and your family’s medical history?
Your travel history
Do you have any medical condition?
When did the diarrhoea start?
How frequent is your bowel activity?
Is there any blood in the stool?
Have you been vomiting or dehydrated?
Are your stools watery or contain mucus or pus?
Further, the doctor will examine you for dehydration. Severe dehydration cases can be fatal if the patient does not receive hydration therapy on time.
Besides, most cases of diarrhoea are treatable quickly and do not require any testing. However, in some cases, the doctor may recommend a stool test if the symptoms continue for more than a week. A few other tests that your doctor can suggest are as follows:
Full blood count
Liver function tests
Tests for malabsorption
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein
Tests for antibodies
One of the basic recovery paths for diarrhoea includes replacing the lost fluids in the body. In simple terms, it means drinking more water or electrolyte beverages such as sports drinks. For diarrhoea leading to extreme dehydration, the patient might need to go through intravenous therapy. Besides, if it is a bacterial infection causing this illness, doctors can prescribe antibiotics.
Overall, the recommended treatment for diarrhoea depends on the following factors:
The severity of the diarrhoea and its related symptoms
Frequency of the diarrhoea
Level of your dehydration
Existing health of the patient
Medical history of the patient
Patient’s ability to tolerate different procedures or medications
In most cases, diarrhoea recovers without treatment. However, you can use the following home remedies to soothe the distress you are facing.
Increase your fluid intake but avoid caffeine and alcohol
Eat semi-solid and low-fibre food items until your bowel activity returns to normalcy
Avoid complex food groups such as products rich in fats, high-fibres, and seasoned food items for a few days, even after recovery
While there are several reasons why you can suffer from diarrhoea, there are a few preventive measures that help you avoid the infection.
Since diarrhoea is most likely to be caused due to food poisoning, it is essential that keep the cooking area clean more often.
Eat or serve fresh food.
Refrigerate leftover food immediately.
Most people suffer from a condition known as traveller’s diarrhoea. You can suppress the symptoms or occurrence of the same by following the steps below:
Ask your doctor to prescribe antibiotic treatment before you leave
Avoid local tap water, ice cubes, and fresh produce when travelling to new places
Drink bottled water only
Eat well-cooked food
In case you have diarrhoea caused due to viral or bacterial infections, you can prevent its spread by following good personal hygiene. Wash your hands frequently and with soap for more than 20 seconds. Use hand sanitisers when washing hands is not possible.
Diarrhoea is a very common infection in people that has several causes. As explained earlier, most cases can be treated with home remedies and simple medical treatments. However, if diarrhoea leads to other health complications and concerns, it is highly requested to get medical assistance immediately.
If the health issues lead to other life-threatening concerns, prolonged hospitalisation can be required for complete recovery. In times like these, be smart and get in touch with your health insurance provider to cover the rising medical and treatment expenses.
Overall, diarrhoea is treatable and does not pose severe danger to one’s health. But make sure you get proper medication before the symptoms worsen.