It doesn’t take much of a shift in diet and lifestyle to throw our digestive system out of whack. When the body is exposed to unusual substances, it can react with a number of digestive problems, such as constipation, gas, cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Those suffering from diarrhea often experience frequent loose and watery bowel movements, usually three or more times per day. The need to purge can be urgent and sometimes uncontrollable. Other symptoms that can accompany diarrhea include bloating, stomach pain, gas, cramping, and nausea.
When the symptoms only persist over a few days, it is classified as acute diarrhea, but if the problem persists for weeks, months, it is considered chronic diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea can be a sign of serious health problems and should be checked out by a health professional.
As common ailment, most adults in the U.S. will experience a bout of diarrhea four times each year. Children are more vulnerable and usually experience symptoms around ten times before the age of five.
Diarrhea has many causes, including:
- Infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and/or parasites
- Physical reaction to medication
- Food allergies and intolerance
- Intestinal disorders – irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease
Dealing with Diarrhea
Though diarrhea can certainly be a nuisance, bringing it to an abrupt end isn’t the best treatment. It’s better to let the symptoms run their course in most cases, and let the digestive system right itself. While you can purchase over-the-counter medications to stop symptoms, this could lead to bigger problems and stretch out the length of illness. You can, however, help speed things along:
- Drink lots of fluids to help flush your system. Water, real fruit juice, sports drinks, and even broth will help.
- Avoid dairy products
- Stay away from high-fat, greasy food
- Limit caffeine until symptoms improve
- No sugary treats or drinks
Limit yourself to foods that are easily digestible, like toast (no butter or jelly!), bananas, dry crackers, clear soup broth, plain rice, skinless chicken breasts, and boiled potatoes with no topping. Also avoid spicy foods that could aggravate the stomach. If you notice a specific food irritates your stomach, stop eating it and let your doctor know.
When Is Diarrhea Serious?
Most cases of diarrhea will clear up on their own without medical treatment, especially with proper diet and hydration, but without precaution, the condition can turn serious. Dehydration and malnutrition become serious risks with lengthy bouts, as the body might be unable to absorb needed nutrients from food. If your diarrhea doesn’t clear up, your doctor may run tests for viruses, parasites, and bacteria, and prescribe antibiotics to cure a lingering infection.
Any chronic diarrhea lasting longer than two weeks should be assessed and treated by a medical professional. Left untreated, those suffering chronic diarrhea can quickly become dehydrated and may need IV fluids to restore nutrients lost during illness.
Since diarrhea can quickly become a serious health threat for children, they should be seen by a doctor at the first signs of dehydration following a bout. In children, symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, sunken eyes; dry, chapped lips; dry mouth; and darkened or decreased urination.
While diarrhea can be very unpleasant to deal with, most cases aren’t a sign of more serious health problems, but if your symptoms persist beyond a few days and are accompanied by fever, severe abdominal pain, or dehydration, get it checked out by your doctor.