Diarrhea is described as passing of loose, watery stool (bowel movements). It can be caused by bacteria or parasites found in water or food and can cause individuals to experience stomach cramps, a greater volume of stool, as well as feel weak and dehydrated. There are two common types of diarrhea: Acute diarrhea and chronic diarrhea.
- Acute diarrhea: a condition most often caused by viruses, resulting in acute, watery diarrhea.
- Chronic diarrhea: a condition most often caused by inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) resulting in watery diarrhea.
Diarrhea varies in symptoms depending on the severity of the condition and must be treated in order to stabilize the function of the digestive system.
Signs and symptoms of diarrhea may include:
- Watery stool
- Stomach pain/cramping
- Stomach rumbling
- Reduced muscle/fat mass
There are many different causes for diarrhea, but a bowl infection is the most common cause in both children and adults. A bowel infection may be caused by eating food or drinking water that contains certain bacteria or parasites.
Other common causes of diarrhea include:
- Antibiotics that disturb the natural balance of bacteria in the intestines
- An individual’s stress levels
- Lactose found in milk and other daily products that cause difficult digestion in some individuals
- Artificial sweeteners that can be found in gum
- Certain medications
- Certain health conditions (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, microscopic colitis and irritable bowel syndrome)
Factors associated with increased risk of developing diarrhea include the following:
- Exposure to infectious agents
- Recent dietary changes
- Bloody diarrhea
Traveler’s diarrhea is most common while traveling to developing countries and results from exposure to bacterial toxins (eating raw foods and drinking contaminated beverages) such as E. coli.
A few treatment options that can be done at home to reduce diarrhea include:
- Taking antibiotics to help fight bacteria in the body
- Replacing fluids and electrolytes to maintain possible disruption of your body's fluid and mineral levels
- Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
- Maintaining a healthy diet (choosing which foods to eat and which not to eat)
- Avoiding medications for diarrhea that can be bought without a prescription
A few recommendations for preventing diarrhea may include:
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after going to the toilet and before a meal
- Cleaning the toilet with disinfectant
- Avoiding sharing towels, utensils and other products with other family members
- Avoiding drinking unsafe tap water and raw foods while travelling abroad
- Washing foods before eating them
- Washing work surfaces frequently to avoid spreading germs from one food item to another