How to Cope with Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a very common condition in which your bowel movements (stools) are loose, watery and occur more frequently than usual.

Signs and symptoms associated with diarrhea may include:

  •  Frequent, loose, watery stools
  •  Abdominal cramps
  •  Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Blood in the stool
  • Bloating

Common causes of diarrhea

Bacteria and parasites – through ingestion of contaminated food or water. Common parasites that can cause diarrhea include Giardia lamblia and cryptosporidium. Common bacterial causes of diarrhea include campylobacter, salmonella, shigella and E. coli. Diarrhea caused by bacteria and parasites can be common when traveling in developing countries and is often called traveler’s diarrhea.

Antibiotics – because they destroy both good and bad bacteria, antibiotics can disturb the natural balance of bacteria in your intestines. This disturbance sometimes leads to an infection with bacteria called Clostridium difficile, which also can cause diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance – lactose is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Many people have difficulty digesting lactose and experience diarrhea after eating dairy products. Your body makes an enzyme that helps digest lactose, but for most people, the levels of this enzyme drop off rapidly after childhood. This causes an increased risk of lactose intolerance as you age.

Fructose – fructose is a sugar found naturally in fruits and honey and added as a sweetener to some beverages. It can cause diarrhea in people who have trouble digesting it.

Artificial sweeteners – sorbitol and mannitol, artificial sweeteners found in chewing gum and other sugar-free products, can cause diarrhea in some otherwise healthy people.

Alcohol abuse – the small and large intestines reabsorb salt and water, but alcohol interferes with this process often causing diarrhea.

Food allergies – such as allergy to peanuts, fish and shellfish.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, diarrhea signs and symptoms usually last a couple of days. If you’re an adult, see your doctor if:

  • Your diarrhea persists beyond two days
  • You become dehydrated, as evidenced by excessive thirst, dry mouth or skin, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness, or dark-colored urine
  • You have severe abdominal or rectal pain
  • You have bloody or black stools
  • You have a fever above 39ºC

In children, particularly young children, diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration. Call your doctor if your child’s diarrhea doesn’t improve within 24 hours or if your baby:

  •  Hasn’t had a wet diaper in three or more hours
  •  Has a fever above 39ºC
  •  Has bloody or black stools
  •  Has a dry mouth or cries without tears
  • Is unusually sleepy, drowsy, unresponsive or irritable
  •  Has a sunken appearance to the abdomen, eyes or cheeks
  •  Has skin that doesn’t flatten if pinched and released

Tips to help you cope with diarrhea

1. Drink plenty of clear liquids, including water, broths and juices, every day. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

2. Add semisolid and low-fiber foods gradually as your bowel movements return to normal. Try soda crackers, toast, eggs, rice or chicken.

3. Avoid certain foods such as dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods or highly seasoned foods for a few days.

4. Ask your doctor about anti-diarrheal medications that may help reduce the number of watery bowel movements you or your child experiences.

5. Ask your doctor about probiotics, which may boost the number of healthy bacteria present to fight germs in your digestive tract.

-Medical Observer

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