Diarrhea is a condition wherein a person has three or more liquid or
loose bowel movements in a day. Diarrhea may occur as a result of increased fluid secretion into the intestine, reduced fluid absorption from the intestine or quick passage of stool through the intestine. When bowel movements are greater than five a day or composed of liquid stools, it is called absolute diarrhea. In contract, relative diarrhea is characterized by an upsurge in the frequency of bowel movements or stool looseness.
Types of diarrhea
- Acute diarrhea
- Generally lasts between five to ten day
- Common cause of death in developing nations, especially among babies and young children
- Chronic diarrhea
- Long-term diarrhea
- One of leading causes of death among children in developing countries
Classifications of diarrhea
Diarrhea is classified according to their causes. The three classifications are osmotic, secretory and exudative diarrhea.
- Osmotic diarrhea
- Bowel is absorbing more water from the body and into the bowel
- Example: when sugar substitutes are not absorbed by the body but draws water from it
- Secretory diarrhea
- Water is released into the bowel
- Examples: most infections and drugs
- Exudative diarrhea
- Presence of blood or pus in the stool
- Example: inflammatory bowel diseases
Causes of diarrhea
Diarrhea is quite common to people of all ages. Sometimes, people experience it once or twice a year.
- When virus infects the gut leading to inflammation of gastrointestinal tract
- Also called intestinal flu or stomach flu
- Bacterial infection
- Commonly the cause of food poisonings
- Infections by other organisms
- Allergic reaction
- Ingesting food that upsets the digestive tract
- Medications such as certain antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs
- Intestinal diseases
- Lactose intolerance
- Alcohol abuse
- Laxative abuse
Symptoms of diarrhea
Aside from the thin or loose watery stools, diarrhea has other symptoms which include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Sense of urgency to have a bowel movement
- Nausea and vomiting
- In severe cases, presence of blood or mucus in the stool, and fever
Treatment for diarrhea
Most cases of acute diarrhea do not require extensive treatment as they will clear up on their own. However, it is important to remain hydrated throughout the illness. The most common complication for diarrhea is dehydration. Electrolyte imbalance is another.
- To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of clear fluids, such as water, fruit juices and sports drinks. Drink small amounts but frequently. Avoid anything that contains alcohol or caffeine as these are diuretics. Moreover, avoid milk as it may actually worsen diarrhea.
- As soon as one is capable, try eating food that are high in carbohydrates and avoid food high in fat. A bit of salt may also be added to replenish lost salt.
- If the person is vomiting, help them into a comfortable position, usually sitting up.
- Avoid diarrhea medications unless advised by the doctor. These may ease symptoms but prolong diarrhea.
If not treated, diarrhea may be fatal. Thus, it is necessary to act immediately. It is helpful to understand diarrhea and it mechanism when taking first aid courses as they may lead to medical emergencies.