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. There are several causes for diarrhea, most often it is caused by irritation of intestine wall. For diarrhea treatment it is important to find out and eliminate the cause of diarrhea and use causal cure, including diet.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
Diarrhea is a symptom that can be associated with several diseases, mostly of digestive tract (celiac disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, antibiotic-associated colitis, large intestine tumours). Diarrhea is characterized by frequent defecation of loose stool, by definition at least three times a day. It can be accompanied by abdominal cramps, at times even nausea and vomiting. There is no relive felt after defecation. This course is typical for inflammatory diseases of the bowel. Sometimes diarrhea can be associated with malaise, fatigue or weight loss. In case blood appears in stool, it is necessary to contact physician.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Diarrhea
In case of uncomplicated diarrhea, satisfactory treatment consists of supplementation of fluids and ions and diet with restriction of irritant and fat meals, sometimes charcoal may be useful. If diarrhea lasts more than five days and is associated with fever or other complications, it is necessary to see a doctor. Essential part of the examination must be careful history of patients' disease and probable cause of diarrhea. The physician will be interested in stool volume, colour, consistency, defecation frequency and any possible stool admixtures. Treatment of diarrhea is later suggested according to suspected etiology. In case infection of digestive tract is suspected, laboratory tests of the stool should be performed in order to reveal particular pathogen and consequent specific therapy. If infectious etiology is less probable, the physician may use X-ray examination of the abdomen and endoscopic examination of the intestine. During this examination the large intestine is inspected by a small camera attached to a tube inserted to the bowel through anus.
According to results of all the tests, different medicaments can be prescribed. In food poisoning medicines are prescribed that absorb the toxins and facilitate their excretion from the body. In bacterial infections usually only bowel disinfectants are needed, in some cases, however, antibiotics are necessary to destroy harmful bacteria. Even antibiotics can cause diarrhea. So-called broad-spectrum antibiotics can destroy wide range of micro organisms, on the other hand many beneficial intestinal bacteria are killed, too. Bacterial microflora of the intestine is very important for correct digestion, and its absence can cause serious digestive problems, among others also diarrhea. This so-called antibiotic-associated diarrhea can be prevented by usage of special dietary supplements (probiotics). Probiotics contain useful intestinal bacteria and therefore help good digestion.
Complications of Diarrhea
During treatment of diarrhea, fluids should be carefully supplemented. If diarrhea lasts longer time, the loss of fluids and ions can have severe consequences. Extremely dangerous diarrhea is for infants and toddlers because the loss of fluids is quicker in this group of patients and can even result in death of the child. For the same reasons loss of fluids is dangerous also in elderly people. In adults loss of fluids results in pressure drop and some organs may suffer from hypoxia. Minerals are important for correct function of heart, kidney and nervous system. Advisable source of fluids and minerals is unsweetened tea and still mineral water. Sodium can be supplemented by salt soups, bananas are rich in potassium. During diarrhea and at least a day after it has subsided patients are not advised to eat citrus fruits and other irritant food. Diet consisting of rice, carrot infusion, boiled or mashed potatoes and crackers should be followed. Boiled or steamed white meat and yoghurts can be added slowly. Yoghurts contain live cultures that help restoring correct function of the bowel.