Diarrhea can be an embarrassing topic to approach, especially when paired with concerns about your health. Nobody wants to go about their day running to the bathroom repeatedly, but aside from the humiliation factor, diarrhea can be an indication of a more serious underlying issue. While most instances usually resolve on their own, untreated diarrhea can cause severe dehydration and other complications. Figuring out the cause of your diarrhea can help in resolving the issue quickly. There are some ways you can combat it once it has occurred, but preventative measures can also be taken to ensure that the digestive system functions appropriately to adequately do away with waste.
Diarrhea can be the result of any number of external or internal factors, but in order to understand how diarrhea is caused, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of diarrhea. Diarrhea is typically characterized by abdominal pain or cramping, fever, bloody stools, bloating, and of course, frequent, loose, and watery stool. When exhibiting these signs, it is vital to try and figure out what is contributing to your symptoms in order to treat the problem quickly.
Many conditions and external factors can lead to diarrhea, including but not limited to:
- Viruses: Viruses, such as viral hepatitis, can cause inflammation to certain parts of the digestive tract like the liver and make it harder for the body to break down and dispose of waste appropriately, leading to loose or difficult stools.
- Bacteria and/or Parasites: When bacteria or parasites invade the digestive tract, this usually results in diarrhea. Most often than not, infection of this nature is related to food or food preparation.
- Medications: Medication-induced diarrhea is actually fairly common, and according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, nearly all medications list diarrhea as a side-effect. Antibiotics are particularly guilty of this because when they enter the digestive tract, they can kill some of the healthy bacteria that resides there, causing a digestive imbalance.
- Lactose Intolerance: Many people get diarrhea after ingesting a lot of cheese or other dairy products. That is because, as stated by HealthLine, “Lactose is commonly found in dairy products, such as milk and yogurt. A person becomes lactose intolerant when his or her small intestine stops making enough of the enzyme lactase to digest and break down the lactose.” As a result of this, the lactose interacts with bacteria in the large intestine and this can result in diarrhea.
- Artificial Sweeteners: Diabetes Forecast reports that, “The primary culprits that cause the laxative effect [in artificial sweeteners] are sugar alcohols, also known as polyols.” Because polyols come from plant products like berries, they act a lot like the concentrated sugars found in fruits. “The fructose pulls fluid into the gut, and when it’s ingested in large amounts, it can result in bloating and diarrhea.”
- Surgery: Because of the diet changes people make prior to surgery, such as only ingesting water for some hours before the procedure, sometimes people have diarrhea for a day or so post-op. In addition to this, some medications associated with the surgery may have negative effects on the digestive tract, as mentioned above.
Treatment of diarrhea depends largely on the cause and the general health of the person. For instance, children and the elderly will generally have a harder time resolving their symptoms than a healthy adult. Typically, diarrhea is self-diagnosable and self-treatable, and symptoms usually resolve in just a couple days. Medical author John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP, suggests that people follow the “BRAT” diet in order to ease symptoms; bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. It is also important that you stay hydrated, as dehydration is one of the biggest risks associated with diarrhea. There are also some over-the-counter medications you can take, such as Pepto-Bismol. However, before taking any of these medications, you should check with your doctor to ensure that these types of antidiarrheal medications are safe for you.
More severe cases of diarrhea may be a sign of a much more serious issue. In children, it is vital that you see a doctor as soon as possible if they display the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours
- High fever over 102˚F
- Bloody or black stools
- Dry mouth/tongue
- Is unusually irritable or unresponsive
In adults, there is a little more leeway in terms of how soon you should see a doctor. Instead of making an appointment after exhibiting diarrhea symptoms for over 24 hours, healthy adults can usually give themselves about 48 hours before becoming overly concerned. However, if you exhibit any of the above symptoms, or start feeling the effects of dehydration, see a doctor sooner rather than later.
Are you concerned about your gastrointestinal health? Make an appointment with Healthpointe today to speak to a doctor, or call (888) 824-5632.