What is it?
Diarrhea is either an increase in the frequency of your bowel movements or a decrease in the consistency of the stool. Diarrhea can be further divided into acute and chronic depending on the duration. Chronic diarrhea generally refers to diarrhea, which lasts for at least a month.
How bad is it?
Most causes of acute diarrhea end within several days. Severe acute diarrhea with bowel movements every half hour accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting can lead to dehydration.In third world countries, diarrheal diseases are the most common cause of childhood deaths.
Chronic diarrhea can have a myriad of causes and usually requires evaluation by an experienced physician.
What causes it?
There are numerous causes of diarrhea. Some of the more common causes include viral and bacteria infections. A particularly severe bacterial cause is E.coli 0157:H7 usually caused by eating undercooked meat. This illness is usually associated within the presence of blood in the stool. This illness is particularly severe and can lead to kidney failure. Prescription and nonprescription medications can cause diarrhea. Antibiotic-associated diarrhea is very common and usually ends when the antibiotics are stopped. A particularly aggressive form of antibiotic-associated diarrhea called clostridium difficile enterocolitis can lead to life-threatening complications and requires more antibiotics for a cure. Over-the-counter antacids also can cause diarrhea.
Lactose intolerance is another trigger. The condition is present in 20 percent of the Caucasian population and as many as 75 percent of the African American population. The condition is usually first noticed in late childhood or early adulthood. Dairy products like milk, cheese, ice cream and less commonly yogurt result in bloating, gas and diarrhea. Treatment is avoidance of dairy products or taking over-the-counter lactase when ingesting dairy products, which usually helps prevent the diarrhea. If you decide to avoid dairy products, you will need to supplement calcium intake to help prevent osteoporosis.
How do I know I have it?
You know. Diarrhea can seriously diminish your quality of life.
What can I do about it?
Most cases go away on their own. You may want to change your diet by increasing your fluid and electrolyte intake with Pedialyte® or Gatorade® so you can prevent dehydration. If the diarrhea is accompanied by a fever, blood in the stool or significant abdominal pain, see a doctor.
Caution should be taken in using antibiotics to treat children with diarrhea. Antibiotics may actually make children sicker according to a new study. Children who received antibiotics for diarrhea caused by E. coli 0157:H7 had a 17 percent greater chance of getting hemolytic uremic syndrome, a severe, life-threatening kidney and blood disease.
Points to remember
- Diarrhea has many causes.
- All but the brief, self-limited episodes should be evaluated by a physician.
- Some chronic diarrhea with malabsorption causes malnutrition.
- Your evaluation may be long and complex.
- Your treatment and its success will be determined by your specific condition.