People suffering from diarrhea experience frequent, loose, watery stools. This disorder can affect people of all ages but is particularly worrisome in the young and old because of the threat of dehydration. Diarrhea lasting for more than 2 days may be a sign of a more serious problem.
Physicians talk about two types of diarrhea. Acute diarrhea can be caused by bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections, food intolerance, or reactions to medicine and lasts a short time.
Chronic diarrhea is usually related to other digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease and may last for the duration of the illness. Diarrhea can be a symptom of intestinal infection, celiac disease or lactose intolerance.
People who visit foreign countries are at risk for traveler’s diarrhea, which is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Traveler’s diarrhea can be a problem for people visiting developing countries
Is diarrhea common?
Research funding for diarrhea is very low in spite of the high mortality rates. Each year, 4.5 billion people contract diarrhea worldwide. In Canada, 86% of acute gastrointestinal illnesses involve diarrhea and approximately 25% of people taking antibiotic medicines develop diarrhea. Over-the-counter retail sales for diarrhea remedies doubled between 2003 and 2008 to equal $50 million in 2008.
What causes diarrhea?
Food intolerances or allergies may be the cause of your diarrhea. Your doctor may ask you to avoid lactose, carbohydrates, wheat, or other foods. If you diarrhea stops when these items are removed from your diet, curing your diarrhea may involve changing your diet.
If the cause of your diarrhea is not easily determined and it does not resolve itself, your doctor may send you for a sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy or imaging tests to have a look at your digestive tract from the inside.
Can I prevent diarrhea?
Trying a bulking agent such as psyllium may be helpful. Bulking agents help hold water in the stool and add bulk which may slow your bowel movements down. Don’t be confused by labels that say bulking agents are for constipation. These products can be helpful for both diarrhea and constipation.
You may also try to avoid foods that have a tendency to aggravate your diarrhea. These include caffeine, milk products, and foods that are greasy, high in fibre and/or very sweet.