Diarrhea occurs when food and fluids you ingest pass too quickly through your colon or in too large of an amount or both. Normally, your colon absorbs liquids from the food you eat, leaving a semisolid stool. If the liquids aren’t absorbed, the result is a watery bowel movement.
If your diarrhea persists or is severe and accompanied by a high fever or bloody stools, see your doctor. It may be a sign of a serious disorder or infection that needs further investigation. Prolonged or severe diarrhea can also lead to dehydration.
WHAT’S THE CAUSE?
A number of diseases and conditions can cause diarrhea. Common causes include:
- Viruses. Viruses that can cause diarrhea include Norwalk virus, cytomegalovirus, and viral hepatitis. Rotavirus is a common cause of acute childhood diarrhea.
- Bacteria and parasites. Contaminated food or water can transmit bacteria and parasites to your body. Parasites such as Giardia lamblia and cryptosporidium can cause diarrhea. Common bacterial causes of diarrhea include campylobacter, salmonella, shigella, and Escherichia coli (E. coli).
- Medications. Many medications can cause diarrhea. The most common are antibiotics, which destroy good and bad bacteria and can disturb the natural balance of bacteria in your intestines.
- Lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Many people have difficulty digesting lactose and experience diarrhea after eating dairy products. How to eliminate intolerance.
- Fructose. Fructose, a sugar found naturally in fruits and honey and added as a sweetener to some beverages, can cause diarrhea in people who have trouble digesting it.
- Artificial sweeteners. Sorbitol and mannitol, artificial sweeteners found in chewing gum and other sugar-free products, can cause diarrhea in some people.
- Surgery. Some people may experience diarrhea after undergoing abdominal surgery or gallbladder removal surgery.
Other digestive disorders. Several conditions may cause chronic diarrhea including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, microscopic colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. These are chronic gut conditions.
Diarrhea that isn’t linked to a chronic condition often can be treated at home.
To help you cope until your diarrhea goes away:
- Drink plenty of clear liquids. This includes water, juice, and broth. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Prolonged or severe diarrhea can create an electrolyte imbalance. Fruit juice supplies needed potassium, and soup or broth needed sodium. Some sports drinks also contain electrolytes.
- Avoid certain foods. Dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods, or highly seasoned foods can worsen symptoms.
- Consider anti-diarrheal medications.
- Try probiotics. Probiotics contain strains of living bacteria similar to the healthy bacteria normally found in your digestive system. Probiotics may boost the number of healthy bacteria present to fight germs in your digestive tract. Probiotics are found in some yogurts and cheese and are sold as supplements.
- Add low-fiber foods gradually. As your bowel movements return to normal, try soda crackers, toast, eggs, rice or chicken.
If self-care doesn’t work, see a doctor. He or she may recommend:
- Antibiotics. Antibiotics may help treat diarrhea caused by bacteria or parasites. If a virus is causing your diarrhea, antibiotics won’t help.
- Fluid replacement. For most people, replacing fluids means drinking water, juice, or broth. If drinking liquids upsets your stomach or causes diarrhea, your doctor may recommend getting fluids through a vein in your arm.
- Medication adjustment. If an antibiotic or another medication is causing your diarrhea, your doctor may modify the dose or switch to a different medication.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.