Acute diarrhea lasts for a few days and most are self limiting. Chronic diarrhea lasts for more than 4 weeks. It is either continuous or intermittent and indicative of underlying medical condition that requires further investigation.
Normally, the colon can absorb several times more fluid than required. In case of a microbial invasion, the lining of the digestive system is damaged. This hampers the ability of the colon to pull excess fluids from the feces.
This, in turn, causes the bowel contents to move through the digestive system too quickly, resulting in diarrhea.
Causes of Diarrhea
Diarrhea can be induced by a number of causes. These can be:
- Consumption of food and water contaminated with:
- Bacteria – Campylobacter, Escherichia coli ( coli), Salmonella, and Shigella
- Parasites – Cryptosporidium enteritis, Entamoeba histolytica, and Giardia lamblia
- Viral infections of rotavirus (common in children); norovirus causes stomach flu
- Overuse of laxatives
- Food allergies (soy)
- Side effects of a medication
- Malabsorption of nutrients
- Radiation therapy
- Traveling to places with poor hygiene and sanitation
Signs and Symptoms of Diarrhea
Various signs and symptoms associated with diarrhea include:
- Loose, watery stools
- Frequent urge to pass stools
- Abdominal pain accompanied by cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Blood in the stool
Risk Factors that can Induce a Bout of Diarrhea
Some factors can increase your risk of developing frequent diarrhea:
- Age above 65 and suffering from digestive disorders
- Chronic digestive illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome
- Cancers of the gut
- Certain NSAIDs (such as aspirin and ibuprofen) or medications containing magnesium
- Lactose intolerance
- Gluten intolerance (celiac disease)
- Frequent consumption of greasy fatty foods
- Diabetes mellitus type 2
- Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- Undergoing operative procedures related to the digestive system
Complications that Accompany Severe Diarrhea
Diarrhea is a common problem that is known to affect almost every individual once in a while. You can be riddled with several complications in a severe case of diarrhea:
- Dehydration – Fatal in case of children, elderly people, and those with a weakened immune system
- Bowel incontinence – Inability to control bowel movements
- Acidosis – Too much acid in the blood
Diarrhea can be tackled with a number of preventive measures. It might seem to be a daunting task, but keeping a close watch on your health, hygiene, and sanitation can help you keep your diarrheal woes at bay.
- Keep access to safe and clean drinking water.
- Always consume properly cooked food. Ensure you wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly before preparing.
- Follow good sanitation and hygiene practices such as washing your hands with soap:
- After defecation
- After touching items such as animal feed, garbage, and baby’s poo, which can possibly be a carrier of infectious agents
- Before preparing food
- Before meals
- To avoid diarrhea in children, ensure they are vaccinated for rotavirus according to the standard immunization calendar.
- Breastfeed your child for the first 6 months of life
Preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea
International traveling (specially to developing countries) is the most common cause of travelers’ diarrhea, caused by bacteria particularly E. coli and spread through contaminated feces. To avoid Traveler’s Diarhea, do the following while traveling:
- Avoid tap water
- Drink bottled water/ Beverages 002E
- Prefer tea and coffee prepared from bottled water or boiled water
- Avoid consuming cut fruits, uncooked or under-cooked foods particularly meats
- Do not buy eatables from street vendors
- CDC does not recommend prophylactic antibiotic use to prevent diarrhea. Use Pepto-Bismol while traveling to reduce chance of developing traveler’s diarrhea
- Check in with your doctor about your place of travel, if you are going for an extended period of stay
When to See a Doctor
The red flags in diarrhea that call for medical attention are:
- A high fever that lasts for more than 24 hours
- Black, tarry stools with blood
- Diarrhea that lasts longer than 2 days
- Nausea or throwing up that can dehydrate you
Consult a doctor immediately if you observe any signs of dehydration such as:
- Dry skin
- Dark urine
- Rapid heart rate
- Less urination or fewer wet diapers than usual in a child
Diarrhea needs to be monitored in newborns, elderly, and children.
Chronic and perpetual diarrhea can affect your day-to-day activities and needs to be checked to avoid dehydration, which can result in water and electrolyte imbalance in the body.
Dietary Changes When Suffering from Diarrhea
Dehydration walks hand in hand with a case of diarrhea. This brings a dip in the levels of water as well as essential electrolytes, namely, sodium, potassium, and calcium, in the body.
Thus, it is of primordial importance to maintain electrolyte balance and keep your body hydrated.
Making some dietary changes can help you manage a bout of diarrhea:
- Drink plenty of fluids to replenish the fluid, salt, and mineral levels in your body. Consider taking drinks such as oral rehydration solution (ORS), sports drinks, fresh fruit juices, or coconut water.
- Take small meals.
- Avoid fried foods.
- Avoid alcohol, sweetened drinks, and caffeine.
- Restrict your consumption of fatty foods.
- Stick to bland and starchy foods such as rice, bananas, and applesauce.
- Include low-fat cheese and yogurt to restore the natural flora in your intestines.
Treatment of Diarrhea
Because diarrhea is a symptom of some underlying condition, it calls for a medical review.
The doctor will ask you some questions related to your bowel movement and prescribe you some medicines to combat the infection. In severe cases, the doctor might suggest some other tests to check for other reasons behind chronic diarrhea.
Such tests may include:
- Stool test
- Blood count
- Liver function test
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein levels
Mild cases of diarrhea can be dealt with, using home remedies that can help you control your bowel movements.
Outlined below are some domestic remedies that can help you manage your diarrhea and speed up the normal functioning of your digestive system.
Tips and Remedies to Get Relief from Diarrhea
Here are some home remedies for diarrhea.
1. Add Fenugreek Seeds to Your Diet
- Swallow 1 teaspoon of soaked fenugreek seeds along with 1 tablespoon of yogurt.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of roasted cumin seeds to 1 teaspoon of soaked fenugreek seeds in 2 tablespoons of yogurt. Eat this mix two or three times a day.
2. Heal Your Gut with Ginger
- Prepare a mix of 1 teaspoon each of dried ginger powder, cumin powder, cinnamon powder, and honey. Consume this mixture three times a day.
- You can ease your abdominal cramps and pain by drinking ginger tea two to three times a day.
- You can also take ginger in foods such as gingerbread, gingersnap cookies, or ginger ale.
3. Drink Apple Cider Vinegar in Water
Pathogenic E. coli strains have been known to cause diarrhea.
- Mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in 1 glass of water.
- Drink this solution two times a day until your condition improves.
4. Munch on Bananas
Bananas are also a good source of potassium and can help you replenish the potassium levels lost as a result of frequent defecation.
- Mash one ripe banana and add a pinch of nutmeg and cardamom powder to it. Mix the ingredients well. Eat this mixture twice daily to calm an upset digestive system.
- Include one to two ripe bananas in your breakfast to bind your stools.
5. Take a Dose of Probiotics
Probiotics contain “live cultures” that help restore the natural flora of beneficial microorganisms in the gut.
These bacteria aid in digestion and protect the inner lining of the intestines. The lactic acid produced by these bacteria aids in flushing out harmful bacteria and secreted toxins out of the body.
- You can consume plain yogurt or make a smoothie with it.
- Yogurt is an exception even in cases where lactose intolerance is the cause of diarrhea. Always choose yogurt that is labeled to contain “live culture.”
6. Comfort Your Diarrhea with Chamomile
The antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties provide relief from abdominal cramps.
- To 1 cup of boiling water, add 1 teaspoon of chamomile flowers.
- Let it steep for about 15 minutes.
- Drink this herbal tea at least thrice a day to speed up the healing process.
- You can also use prepackaged chamomile tea bags.
7. Chew Some Dried Blueberries
Blueberries are reported to keep a check on pathogenic microorganisms, namely, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enteritidis. The antimicrobial activity of blueberry can reduce diarrhea caused by these microorganisms.
- Chew dried blueberries.
- Prepare a dried blueberry soup.
8. Drink Orange Peel Tea
The anti-inflammatory properties of orange peel can aid in smooth digestion.
- Wash an orange thoroughly by scrubbing the peel to remove any pesticides.
- Remove the peel. Chop it.
- Place the peel in a pot of water and boil it for 10-15 minutes.
- Strain a cup of this water and add a dash of honey to it.
- Drink this tea two or three times a day.
Diarrhea can range from mild to severe depending on its cause.
Mild cases can go away on their own or can be treated by using some domestic ingredients. The key objective in tackling a bout of diarrhea is to pump up your fluid and electrolyte intake to avoid dehydration.
Additionally, focusing on a bland diet of rice, yogurt, and bananas can come to your rescue and keep a check on your bowel movement.
Severe cases must be medically reviewed to analyze any underlying causes and to avoid dehydration and other complications. Prolonged diarrhea is a cause of concern and calls for immediate medical attention, especially in infants, young children, and the elderly.
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