Diarrhea

Boy (9-11) holding stomach, grimacing

Diarrhea is a common condition that most people will experience from time to time. According to the World Health Organization, diarrhea is characterized by experiencing at least three bowel movements a day that are liquid or not very firm. The condition of diarrhea has its origins often in a case of the gastroenteritis virus, but can also present as an infection from bacteria. In third world countries, diarrhea is known as one of the most common lethal health conditions, and is also considered, worldwide, as the second leading cause of deaths in newborns. The reason for fatalities is extreme dehydration from a large loss of body fluids, and the ensuing imbalance in the body’s electrolytes (i.e potassium). Recent data show that during the year 2009, over one million people who are over 5 years old died from diarrhea, while an estimated one and a half million people below 5 years old also died from the condition.

Causes

As mentioned above, the most probable way a person contracts diarrhea is from a case of a gastroenteritis virus. However, there are other ways such as a bacteria infection, as well as diarrhea associated with other, more long-term, medical illnesses. Regarding the infectious form of diarrhea such as from bacteria or a virus, there are a number of causes. For example, in terms of viruses, the Norwalk virus is quite a common way people get diarrhea, along with other viruses like hepatitis and, the most common in kids, Rotavirus. When it comes to bacteria, often water and food that is contaminated can, if consumed, cause diarrhea. Specific types of these harmful bacteria are salmonella and E. coli. Also, fructose, if you have problems digesting this natural sugar, can cause diarrhea. Artificial sugars like Sorbital, usually found in gum and soda pop, can also give you diarrhea. Certain medications such as antibiotics can easily give you diarrhea too, since antibiotics disrupt the level of bacteria in your body by killing off both the helpful and harmful bacteria. Other medical conditions can also cause diarrhea. So, if you’re lactose intolerant, then you already know that having such a condition, if you indulge in dairy, will cause diarrhea. Also, illnesses like Crohn’s disease, celiac, and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) can trigger chronic bouts of diarrhea.

Signs

As noted above, diarrhea in healthy adults is, at most, a minor inconvenience, with the condition passing on its own in a couple of days. However, in children and the elderly, diarrhea can pose a serious threat to one’s health, even possibly death. Thus, it is important to know the signs and symptoms, and when to seek medical help. Some of the more common symptoms of diarrhea are, of course, stool that is liquid and not firm and that’s occurring frequently (three times or more a day), along with pain or cramping in the abdominal region, and bloating. You may also experience an accompanying fever or a bloody stool. Thus, for adults, medical attention should be sought if for example the diarrhea lasts for over three days, dehydration becomes severe, there is pain in the rectum, stool is black in color, or body temperature reaches beyond 102 Fahrenheit. For children, particularly under 5 years of age, signs to watch out for are: a diaper that is wet for more than 3 hours, a dry mouth with bouts of crying where no tears are present, the abdomen is sunken along with the cheeks and eyes, stool that is black, and there exists a high fever (over 102 F).

Cures

As previously mentioned, quite often diarrhea will go away in about two days, without any treatment. However, if treatment is required, there are a number of options. For example, antibiotics can be prescribed, but only if your diarrhea is bacterial in nature. In many cases, one of the best recommendations is to drink plenty of fluids, in order to be sure you are replacing lost electrolytes. Consuming juice and water is the best fluids to drink, as is consuming soup. Often a certain medication you are taking could be the cause of the diarrhea, so sometimes your medication regimen may need to be adjusted, either through a decrease in drug dosage or switching over to another, safer, medication. Also, medically related, if diarrhea is being caused by a preexisting medical condition, like IBS, it may be a good idea to speak with your doctor to see what treatment options are available to control the diarrhea. Furthermore, one alternative method to treat diarrhea, especially the viral form, is to include more probiotic supplements in your diet. Probiotics are bacteria that, once in your stomach, actually help break down the food you eat as well as defend your system from bad bacteria. So, for example, foods like cheese and yogurt are usually rich in probiotics. However, experiencing bloatedness and gas can be a side effect of consuming foods rich in probiotics.