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Diarrhea (Loose stools)

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What is diarrhea & Symptoms of Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is a condition where you pass loose or watery stools three or more times in a day. In this article, you will learn about all the common causes of Diarrhea and everything about Symptoms of Diarrhea.

Diarrhea may last for a few days to several weeks or even more, depending upon the underlying cause. The underlying cause determines the probable course of the disease and the treatment required.

Thus diarrhea is classified into 3 types on the basis of probable cause and management required:

Acute diarrhea: commonest type, which lasts less than 2 weeks, mostly for 1 to 2 days. This type usually resolves on its own and doesn’t require any specific treatment except for supportive treatment. These cases are generally caused by infection, usually viral infection.

Persistent diarrhea: lasts for more than 2 weeks but less than 4 weeks.

Chronic diarrhea: lasts for 4 weeks or more. The underlying cause is a more chronic condition such as malabsorption, irritable bowel disease, or inflammatory bowel syndrome. These conditions need proper assessment and treatment to prevent further complications.

causes and symptoms of diarrhea

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Diarrhea?

If you have diarrhea your main symptoms of diarrhea would be to pass loose or watery stools 3 or more time in a day.

You may or may not have other symptoms of diarrhea which are as follows:

• Loss of control and urgency to pass stools

• Nausea

• Pain in abdomen

• Abdominal cramps

• Bloating

If your diarrhea is caused by an infection it may lead to following additional symptoms of diarrhea:

• Fever with chills

• Vomiting

• Bloody stools

When to consult a doctor

In an adult following symptoms of diarrhea  should warrant seeking medical help:

• Numerous episodes of diarrhea 6 or more within a day

• Diarrhea associated with bloody or black stools or the presence of mucus

• Diarrhea associated with severe pain in the abdomen or rectum

• Diarrhea associated with high-grade fever (more than 102 F)

• Diarrhea associated with frequent vomiting

• Diarrhea associated with symptoms of diarrhea

• Diarrhea lasting for more than 2 days

In children, diarrhea tends to cause dehydration quickly and thus should prompt early consultation if even it lasts for more than a day.

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What complications you can develop due to diarrhea?

After the signs and symptoms of diarrhea it can lead to two main complications,

• Decreased reabsorption of water by the large intestine, leads to loss of water and electrolytes which in turn causes dehydration especially if diarrhea occurs frequently or severely.

• Decreased absorption of the nutrients by intestine can lead to malabsorption especially if diarrhea persists for a longer duration


Signs and symptoms

In adultsIn infants and children
Dark-colored urine or passing little or no urine at allUrinating less, not having a wet diaper in 3 or more hours
Drying of mouth and skinDry mouth and tongue
Excessive thirstCrying without tears or thirst in older children
Fatigue, weakness or dizzinessIrritability, drowsiness or unresponsiveness
Sunken eyes or cheeksSunken eyes, cheeks or soft spot on the top of the head
Decreased elasticity of the skinDecreased elasticity of the skin


Symptoms of malabsorption

• Loose, sticky and foul-smelling stools

• Bloating

• Gas

• Changes in appetite

• Weight loss

• Poor weight gain (in infants or children)

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What are the causes of diarrhea?

There are a number of causes of diarrhea that can lead to diarrhea ranging from infection- to food or drug allergy-to chronic diseases.

Acute diarrhea is mostly caused by infection. As the duration of the condition increases, the infective causes become less predominant with chronic diseases and conditions becoming an important causes of diarrhea (chronic diarrhea).


Causes of acute and persistent diarrhea

The common causes of diarrhea are as follows:

1. Infections

Typically is seen with the consumption of eating food or drink contaminated with the following:

• Virus: is one of the common causes of acute diarrhea. In viral causes, norovirus is one of the commonest cause (1/5th of all cases) affecting both adults and children. It is estimated to cause over 200,000 deaths every year in developing countries. Previously rotavirus was the commonest cause of diarrhea which has been significantly controlled by the rotavirus vaccines given to children.

• Bacterias: are also common causes of acute diarrhea, especially in developing countries. The common bacterias are salmonella, shigella, E. coli, and campylobacter.

• Parasites: the organisms enter your body through contaminated food and water and use your gut for obtaining nutrition. Some of the parasites that can lead to loose stools are entamoeba histolytica, giardia lamblia, and others.

2. Travelers’ diarrhea

Travelers’ diarrhea develops in people while they are traveling or they have a history of travel. It considered to be due to the consumption of contaminated food and water with the above-mentioned pathogens. It is one of the commonest travel-related diseases one can develop.

3. Medicines side effects

there are a number of medicines which can also lead to loose stools. Common ones are antibiotics, antacids with magnesium and chemotherapy drugs, etc.


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Causes of diarrhea (Chronic Diarrhea)

1. Allergies and intolerance to specific food items

• Food allergies: milk, cereal grains, eggs, and seafood.

• Intolerance: lactose (milk sugar) intolerance, fructose (fruit sugar) intolerance, or intolerance to sugar alcohol (usually present sugar-free items).

2. Digestive tract problems

Are one of the commonest causes of chronic diarrhea which has increased in recent times. Here, an underlying condition of your gut results in chronic diarrhea.

Celiac disease

• Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

Irritable bowel syndrome

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth

3. Infections

Sometimes the gut infection persists if they are not treated properly and continue to cause loose stools for a longer period. In some people, the infection may also result in problems in digesting lactose or proteins present in certain food items such as milk or milk products which in turn leads to chronic diarrhea.

4. Chronic medicine use

Certain medicines when taken for long alters the normal gut flora which may in turn lead to incomplete digestion of food causing chronic diarrhea. It may also predispose to infection. eg: antibiotics

5. Abdominal surgery

If you have a history of abdominal surgery you have a tendency to develop chronic diarrhea. This may include surgeries of the large intestine, appendix, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, small intestine, or stomach.

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How diarrhea is diagnosed?

If you are facing any symptoms of diarrhea the contact to your doctor. Your doctor will start by asking about your medical history and by reviewing if you take any medicine. He would do a physical exam and would order tests to check for the cause. The tests may include:

What is the treatment of diarrhea?

Treatment of acute diarrhea

Consists of the following:

• Rehydration

• Appropriate diet


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