Diarrhea

Diarrhea is more than three loose, liquid stools in a single day. It depletes the body of fluids and electrolytes. Diarrhea can be: If the body loses too much fluid, it can become dehydrated. Dehydration is especially dangerous for babies, young children, and elderly people.

  • Causes


    Causes may include:


    • Food intolerance, such as
      lactose intolerance

    • Medication, including:

      • Antibiotics
      • Magnesium-containing antacids
      • Chemotherapy
      • Laxatives
    • Irritable bowel syndrome, which is episodes of diarrhea often alternate with periods of
      constipation
    • Injury to the bowel after radiation treatments for cancer

    • Malabsorption syndromes, such asCeliac disease
    • Diseases of the pancreas and/or gallbladder

    • Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease

    • Chronic diseases, such as:

      • Liver disease
      • Diabetes
      • Hyperthyroidism


      • AIDS
      • Colon cancer
    • Intestinal surgery

    • Infections such as:


      • Bacterial, such as salmonella

      • Viral, such as
        rotavirus and
        norovirus

      • Parasitic

      • Fungal, such as
        yeast

  • Definition


    Diarrhea is more than three loose, liquid stools in a single day. It depletes the body of fluids and electrolytes. Diarrhea can be:

    • Acute—Occurring suddenly and lasting briefly
    • Chronic—Long-term
    • Recurring—Coming and going


    If the body loses too much fluid, it can become
    dehydrated. Dehydration is especially dangerous for babies, young children, and elderly people.

  • Diagnosis


    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may insert a gloved finger into your rectum to examine it. This is called a digital rectal exam.

    To determine the cause of your diarrhea, the doctor will ask questions, such as:

    • Does anyone else in your family have diarrhea?
    • What kinds of food have you eaten recently?
    • Do you drink well water?
    • Do your children attend daycare?
    • Have you traveled recently?
    • Do you use laxatives?
    • What medications do you take?
    • Do you have any symptoms other than diarrhea, such as fever, rash, or aching joints?
    • What is your sexual history?
    • Have you ever had abdominal surgery?


    Tests may include:


    • Your bodily fluids, tissues, and waste products may be tested. This can be done with:
      • Laboratory analysis of a stool sample
      • Blood tests
      • Biopsy
    • You may need to have your rectum and colon examined. This can be done with:
      • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
      • Colonoscopy
    • You may need to have images taken of your colon. This can be done with:

      • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series
      • Barium enema
    Barium Enema
    Radiology colon
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  • Prevention


    To reduce your chance of getting diarrhea:

    • Practice good handwashing.
    • Practice safe food preparation and food storage.
    • If you have diarrhea, do not prepare food for others.

    • If you are traveling:

      • Drink bottled water.
      • Use bottled water when brushing your teeth.
      • Avoid drinks that contain ice.
      • Do not eat food purchased from street vendors.
      • Do not eat raw vegetables or fruits. All produce should be peeled and/or cooked.
      • Make sure meats and seafood are cooked thoroughly.
      • Eat only pasteurized dairy products.
      • If you eat seafood, make sure it is very hot.


    Rotavirus is a common cause of diarrhea in children under five years of age. There is a
    vaccine
    to prevent rotavirus. The first dose is given at age two months. Make sure your infant has received this vaccine.

  • Risk Factors


    Risk factors include:

    • Traveling
      to a developing country where the water and food supply may be contaminated
    • Taking certain medications
    • Hospitalization
    • Having a severely weakened immune system, such as with AIDS or after an organ transplant

  • Symptoms


    Symptoms may include:

    • Frequent, loose, liquid stools
    • Abdominal pain, cramping
    • Urgent need to defecate
    • Blood and/or mucus in stool
    • Fever
    • Dehydration
    • Nausea, vomiting
    • Muscle aches and pains
    • Weight loss

  • Treatment

    Treating the underlying condition may help to relieve the diarrhea.

    General recommendations for treating diarrhea include: