Diarrhea, or diarrhoea, is a symptom of indigestion. It is characterized by frequent defecation of loose or even watery stool; by definition there must be three or more defecations per day in diarrhea. Diarrhea as such is not a sole disease; it is more likely a symptom of several diseases of digestive tract – bowel disorders, less often diseases of stomach or pancreas. For differential diagnosis it is therefore very important to monitor stool volume and character, its changes in time and possible admixtures.
Causes of Diarrhea
Diarrhea is a symptom that accompanies several diseases. It affects patients of all ages. There are several causes for diarrhea that can be divided into two groups – infectious and non-infectious.
Infectious Causes of Diarrhea
Diarrhea can be caused by irritation of bowel mucosa or other damage to intestine wall. The most common causes for diarrhea, especially in children, are viral infections. Course of diarrhea in viral infections is usually very quick; it subsides spontaneously within few days. Viruses can spread easily among children; the main danger of these infections is dehydration. Also some bacteria and parasites can attack intestine mucosa and cause diarrhea. Among bacterial infections of the intestine the most common pathogens are Salmonella, Campylobacter, Escherichia Coli, Shigella, dysentery, cholera in developing countries.
Non-infectious Causes of Diarrhea
Non-infectious Causes of Diarrhea are not connected with microscopic pathogen. Quite common in this group is so-called antibiotic-associated diarrhea. When antibiotics are administered, not only harmful germs within body are destroyed, but also bacteria of normal intestinal microflora. Subsequently, during formation of new bacterial microflora in the intestine, the harmful bacteria overbalance the normal microflora in some people and diarrhoea occurs. This condition usually lasts for several days or weeks and settles spontaneously. Other non-infectious causes of diarrhea comprise intestinal bowel diseases (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), in which etiology is not known; intestine surgery and tumours of the intestine. Some nutrients can also cause diarrhea. So-called travellers' diarrhea can be caused by drinking contaminated water or by consummation of raw food. Some nutrients are unusual for the body and the body reacts by diarrhea; or the intestine is hypersensitive to some nutrients. Typical example for food intolerance is the intolerance of milk sugar (lactose) that can also cause diarrhea, flatulence and abdominal pain after consumption of milk or milk products. Similarly, some patients may react by diarrhea to fruit, nuts and other food. In some cases, diarrhea can be very useful tool how the body can get rid of ingested toxins and poisons.
Treatment for Diarrhea
Treatment for diarrhea is effective only if it is causal. All the patients with diarrhea should be well hydrated, either orally by drinking water or tea, or even parenterally in longer-lasting diarrhea or in smaller children and elderly people. It is also recommended to ensure restitution of ions and energy by drinking mineral water with added sugar. If viral infection is presumed, charcoal can be used. In case there appears blood in the stool, it is necessary to contact physician.
Complications of Diarrhea
The main threat of diarrhea is dehydration, that means loss of water and ions. Dehydration can lead to metabolic disorders and failure of important organ systems. Beside this, diarrhea is for the patients unpleasant and limiting factor that disturbs their normal day and working regime. It is therefore desirable to find out and eliminate the cause of diarrhea and restore normal function of digestive tract as quickly as possible.