Table of Contents
What is diarrhoea?
When your stools are runny and loose, you have diarrhoea. In this case, you could also need to use the restroom more frequently. Additionally, you can feel bloated, get cramps in your lower abdomen, and occasionally be nauseous. Diarrhoea is a very common problem and affects people of all ages. Usually, diarrhoea stool stays for a day or two and go away on its own. If loose motion persists, it may be indicative of a serious problem.
You can classify diarrhoea as:
Acute: Short-term diarrhoea that lasts one or two days before resolving on its own or with medication. The loose motion could be brought on by consuming food or drink that was contaminated. As well as that, it might occur if you contract a viral infection.
Chronic: Long-term diarrhoea that is a cause for concern. Loose motion recurs for several weeks and can be caused by medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Celiac disease, or Crohn’s disease. Sometimes chronic diarrhoea can happen because of a parasitic infection.
Causes of diarrhoea
Diarrhoea is caused by a variety of reasons, including:
- A virus
- A bacterial infection
- Food intolerance (like dairy, gluten, caffeine, spice)
- Allergies to certain foods (like shellfish, gluten, nuts, soy)
- Parasitic infection through contaminated water or food
- Side-effect of certain medication like antibiotics
- Intestinal and digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, among others
- Thyroid disease can be a reason for loose motion
- Developing diarrhoea symptoms after any type of abdominal surgery
- In rare conditions, due to exposure to radiation therapy because of cancer
Some people also experience traveller’s diarrhoea, which is a stomach and intestinal infection. The causes of diarrhoea in this case can be because of consuming food or drink that may be contaminated with bacteria and parasites.
Symptoms of diarrhoea
The symptoms of diarrhoea differ from individual to individual. The common symptoms are:
- Abdominal cramps
- Loose, unformed stool
- Urgent need to use the restroom
In mild to severe cases, diarrhoea can lead to dehydration. If the condition is left unchecked, then dehydration can have a severe effect on your bodily functions. Here’s how you can spot the signs of dehydration in someone who may be experiencing diarrhoea:
- Intense thirst
- Infrequent urination
- Dry skin and dryness around the mouth and nostrils
- Fast and irregular heartbeat
- Dark coloured urine
- Foul smelling urine
- Sunken eyes or cheeks
Dehydration because of loose motions is a high possibility in infants and children. Here are some signs that you should be aware of so that your child’s condition can be managed immediately:
- Lack of energy
- No tears while crying
- Infrequent urination (fewer than usual wet diapers)
- Strong smelling urine that may also be dark in colour
- Dry mouth
- Sunken eyes or cheeks or a soft spot on the baby’s skull
If you or someone you know is experiencing diarrhoea, then there are some symptoms that you should be on the lookout for. These are the tell-tale signs for when the condition has taken an adverse turn. They are:
- Weight loss
- Bloody stool
- Severe pain and fatigue
- Dizziness and light-headedness
Keeping an eye on the colour of your stool is a good practice especially if you are experiencing chronic diarrhoea. Though the colour of your stool can change depending on what you’re eating, if it is black and tarry, extremely foul-smelling, painful and if you suspect there is blood in there too, then you need to head to a doctor.
Diagnosis of diarrhoea
For most of the bouts of diarrhoea you experience, you will not need to seek immediate medical attention. As mentioned above, diarrhoea can usually last for 2 to 3 days, and go away on its own. All you need to do is ensure you don’t burden your digestive system with heavy and fatty foods while you are experiencing loose stool. Drinking enough water is also a good idea in this case.
- In cases of diarrhoea when you need medical attention, your doctor will want to know your symptom history – what you have been going through and how long the symptoms have persisted for.
- A physical examination to detect any pain and discomfort around the abdominal area will also take place. They will also check your blood pressure, signs of fever and dehydration.
- You will also be asked to share details of your diet, medications for any medical condition, family history of any intestinal or digestive tract diseases.
- Stool test where a sample of your stool is taken to find out whether the loose motion cause is a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection.
- Blood work can detect or rule out the possibility of metabolic disorders like thyroid disease, or celiac disease, anaemia, low vitamin levels causing malabsorption, and a pancreatic disorder.
- Imagine tests like ultrasounds to check for any structural abnormalities causing diarrhoea.
- Fasting tests to check for food intolerance (inability to digest certain foods) or food allergy (inflammatory reaction to certain foods).
- A colonoscopy may be done for the doctor to have a look into your large intestine. This process, which uses a colonoscope – a long, flexible tube with a light – can help in finding any abnormal growths, ulcers, red or swollen tissues in the intestine. The colonoscope helps the doctor examine the lining of your colon and, if needed, remove a sample of tissue for a biopsy. This can also rule out whether there is any cancerous growth or not.
- A sigmoidoscopy may happen in the case of severe diarrhoea. With the use of this test, the doctor can examine the interior of a portion of your large intestine. It helps with identifying the source of diarrhoea. Through the rectum, a sigmoidoscope—a brief, flexible, lighted tube—is inserted into your intestine. This tube causes your intestine to enlarge by forcing air into it. This facilitates seeing inside. If required, a biopsy can be performed.
When should you seek help for diarrhoea?
Adults: Adults should seek medical help if diarrhoea lasts for more than two days. Along with frequent loose stool (around 6 times or more), if there is high fever (around 102 F), frequent vomiting, severe pain around the bum or anus, severe dehydration, and stool that is either black, blood or has pus.
Infants and children: The health of an infant, toddler or young child is much more precarious because their immune systems are not strong enough just yet. If you are a caretaker or parent, you must rush to the hospital if the loose stools extend beyond 24 hours, if there is high fever, if the child is irritable and crying because of pain the abdomen and rectum, if you suspect there is blood or pus in their stool, and if the child is displaying even the slightest signs of dehydration.
Treatment of diarrhoea
Usually, if you take an over-the-counter medicine with bismuth subsalicylate and loperamide, your symptoms of acute diarrhoea will be alleviated in a few days. However, if your diarrhoea is accompanied with fever or bloody stool, then these medications are not recommended. Seek a doctor’s advice because you could have a bacterial or parasitic infection.
For infants and children, giving them over-the-counter medicines is ideally not advised. So, it is best to consult with a paediatric doctor or a general physician on how to treat the diarrhoea.
Eating a bland diet devoid of any spice, too much fat is advised for both adults and children. This type of food is soothing and light on the stomach.
If you have persistent or chronic diarrhoea, then your doctor will treat it depending on the cause.
To treat bacterial or parasitic diarrhoea, doctors may recommend antibiotics and medications that specifically target these foreign bodies. Additionally, some diseases that cause chronic diarrhoea, like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcerative colitis, may be treated with medication by doctors. The cause of diarrhoea will also influence the course of treatment for children with chronic loose stool.
Both children and adults may be asked to take probiotic supplements or drinks to encourage healthy gut biome.