Diarrhea is a symptom of many gastrointestinal (GI) conditions where an individual may pass loose watery stools and also the frequency may be more, more than three times a day. The stool becomes watery because of increased water in the stool and the causes may be many.
Excessive liquid may accumulate in the colon because of increased secretion of water into colon from stomach, pancreas, and the intestine; faster movement of liquid or undigested food into the small intestine and colon; poor absorption of water in distal intestine and colon; or the combination of one or more of these conditions.
Diarrhea is of two types; acute and chronic diarrhea. Acute diarrhea is a condition of watery stools that lasts for few days and chronic diarrhea may last for more than a week.
Some of the causes of diarrhea include infection by microorganisms which cause inflammation of the lining of small intestine or produces toxins which secretes more fluid from intestinal walls, intolerance to certain foods or medicines, intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative diseases, mal-absorption, certain types of cancers, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and alcohol abuse.
Often patients with diarrhea may also have other symptoms such as cramps, abdominal pain, dehydration, urgency to pass a bowel, irritation in the anus, nausea and vomiting. These are considered as uncomplicated symptoms. However diarrhea accompanied by fever, loss of weight, or bloody stool is considered complicated and require immediate medical intervention.
Acute diarrhea may not require diagnosis, but chronic diarrhea may require diagnosis to identify the exact cause and thereof for appropriate treatment. Some of the diagnostic tests include stool culture to examine microorganisms or other signs of infection. Blood tests to check to confirm other disease responsible for diarrhea. Your doctor may ask you to avoid certain foods such as lactose, carbohydrates, wheat or others to check for the response of the body. Your physician may also order for special tests such as sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy where a thin, flexible and lighted tube will be passed into the colon and rectum. It enables the doctor to look for inflammation in the colon and rectum or check for other intestinal abnormalities.
Treatment for diarrhea depends on the cause of the condition. Certain over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications may be prescribed to treat mild diarrhea. However, these should be avoided by patients passing bloody stools.
If the diarrhea is caused by infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. Absorbents may also be prescribed by the doctor. These help by binding the water in the small intestine and colon and make the stool harder.
Anti-motility medications may be given to relax the muscles of the small intestine and colon and create more time for the water to be absorbed. If there is narrowing of the intestinal muscles (cramps) anti-motility medications may also help in relaxing the muscles.
At home, you may have to avoid taking caffeine and foods that are high in fiber and sweet as they may worsen the condition. If you are allergic to lactose, then yoghurt is considered to be a better option and may help you to recover fast.