What is Diarrhea?
Everyone has diarrhea at one time or another. The term diarrhea may mean different things to different people. It may be having one liquid stool a day, or it may be having several soft stools a day. It becomes a problem if you are having frequent, watery stools throughout the day and/or night. There are many causes of diarrhea; fortunately it usually clears up on its own. For many people certain foods can cause diarrhea: hot peppers containing capsaiscin, milk products and a large amount of fatty foods are often the culprit. Some medications, such as antibiotics, can cause diarrhea.Irritable Bowel Syndrome and “nerves” can also cause sudden bouts of diarrhea.
Food poisoning usually occurs within a few hours of eating some tainted food. Symptoms may be mild or severe, and usually include diarrhea accompanied by abdominal cramping and nausea. Usually the cause is improper food storage or poor hygiene by food handling personnel. Most often these infections clear up on their own. Some bacterial infections, such as Salmonella are more serious and will require medical attention. Parasites, such as Giardia, usually require treatment. Traveler’s Diarrhea, or Montezuma’s Revenge, is caused by consuming contaminated water or produce while traveling in developing countries. It is also caused by bacteria such as E. Coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter or Staphylococcus, or parasites such as Giardia.
Diagnosis of Diarrhea
The diagnosis will depend on the potential cause of the diarrhea. It may be as simple as discontinuing certain medications or making dietary changes to see if it makes a difference. If your doctor suspects an infectious source he/she may order stool cultures, blood work or x-rays. It may also be necessary to have a colonoscopy so the doctor can examine the lining of your colon for inflammation and possibly take biopsies.
Treatment of Diarrhea
When you have diarrhea the most important thing to do is increase your fluid intake to prevent yourself from becoming dehydrated. Although drinking plain water is fine, it is more beneficial to drink one of the sports drinks available at your grocery store. It is best to slowly sip fluids when you are having an acute attack of diarrhea; gulping liquids can stimulate the intestinal tract even more and contribute to cramping.
In severe cases of diarrhea it is best to avoid most solid foods for a few days. The BRATT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, tea and toast) can also be helpful during an acute bout of diarrhea. Stay on this diet for a few days until diarrhea begins to subside, and then slowly introduce additional foods, staying away from fatty foods.
It is not a good idea to try to stop diarrhea as soon as it occurs by taking an anti-diarrheal medication, such as Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol. The diarrhea may be your body’s way of eliminating a toxin, and it is best to let it take its course. If the diarrhea continues for more than a few days, despite re-hydration and the BRATT diet, you may consider taking one of the over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines. Do not take these medications if your diarrhea is accompanied by any bleeding. You should see your doctor if symptoms are severe or persist for more than a week, or if you have any bleeding or a fever.