What is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is the result of a much more rapid than normal movement of bowel contents through the intestine. This is called intestinal hurry. It causes diarrhea because there hasn’t been enough time for the normal reabsorption of water that should take place in the large intestine (bowel). So the stools are loose and liquid and often passed more frequently than normal.
Conditions that interfere directly with the normal reabsorption of water or that lead to secretion of excess water into the bowel also cause diarrhea.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
Repeated bowel movement with watery stools and sometimes excess gas.
What causes Diarrhea?
Diarrhea can be caused by many factors, and especially by the presence of irritating or damaging substances such as bacterial toxins (poisons produced by bacteria or resulting from their destruction).
Diarrhea is a feature of:
- food poisoning,
- gastroenteritis, and
- overindulgence of food or alcohol.
Diarrhea often results from the use of strong laxatives.
Diarrhea in babies has several causes. It should be remembered that although breast-fed babies are much less likely to suffer intestinal infections than those on the bottle, they normally pass very soft stools. This need cause no concern.
Diarrhea can be caused by intolerance of lactose (found in cow’s milk). The problem may also arise if sugar is added to the feed or if fruit juices are given in excessive quantity.
Another common cause of diarrhea in babies is the move to solid food. The unaccustomed bowel irritation caused by solids may for a time cause intestinal hurry and diarrhea, but it will soon settle.
Diagnostics of Diarrhea
Usually self-evident, but also check for dehydration (lack of fluids) in babies.
How to stop Diarrhea?
Drink boiled water, herbal teas and clear soups to prevent dehydration. Rehydration solutions are available from the pharmacist to replace lost fluid and salt.
It is usually best to avoid solid foods, especially dairy products, coffee and alcohol, for 24 hours. Try dry toast or plain boiled rice or pasta if you are very hungry.
Anti-diarrheal medicines such as loperamide or diphenoxylate can be obtained from the pharmacist if the symptoms are severe. Never give these medicines to babies or children without medical advice.
Prevention is better than cure, always maintain good standards of hygiene when handling food.
Complications of Diarrhea
With the exception of cholera, adult sufferers are usually in little danger specifically from the water loss of diarrhea, and this can be replaced by drinking more water. But this is not so in the case of babies and infants, for whom diarrhea can be very dangerous. Because of the ever-present risk of dehydration, diarrhea in babies should never be taken lightly.
If the feces (stools) are very watery and runny and if there is any sign of general upset, such as fever, vomiting or failure to feed, then medical attention is urgently required. Great frequency of bowel motion is a danger sign. Babies with gastroenteritis can become very ill rapidly, so seek advice early rather than late.