Diarrhea is defined by bowel movements that are watery and loose. This is a very common problem, and a majority of patients experience the symptoms of diarrhea at some point. Diarrhea is only a severe medical concern if it is recurrent. Acute diarrhea is defined by the condition repeating itself for less than 14 days in duration, and the condition is only considered chronic if it occurs for more than 30 days. Many people experience diarrhea once or twice every year but the condition should only be considered a concern if it becomes a reoccurring problem.
There are three different classifications of diarrhea, osmotic, secretory and exudative.
- Osmotic diarrhea is classified by the bowel drawing water from the body. This type of diarrhea is often called “chewing gum” or “dietetic candy” diarrhea.
- Secretory diarrhea is often caused by infection or the use of certain drugs that cause the body to release water into the bowel.
- Exudative diarrhea is classified by the presence of blood or pus in the bowel. This is a common condition of Irritable Bowel Syndromes (IBS) such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
There are several different factors that could cause the appearance of diarrhea, such as:
- Bacterial infection
- Food poisoning
- Allergies to consumed foods
- Side effect to medications
- Radiation therapy
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Certain cancers, like rectal or colon cancer
- Overuse of laxatives
- Overuse of alcohol
Overall, the most common reason that people experience diarrhea is the intestinal flu, and in general the symptoms only last a number of days before recovering on their own.
Treatment options for diarrhea vary depending on the severity and frequency of the symptoms. Mild symptoms can be treated at home by either letting the infection that is causing the diarrhea to pass on its own or by taking over the counter medications to help relieve the discomfort. In addition to over the counter medications such as Pepto-Bismol, Imodium A-D and Kaopectate, drinking plenty of fluids will help you to stay hydrated as your body loses water through your bowel movements.
Severe or long-term diarrhea may require more direct medical treatment and in certain situations may even require hospitalization. Chronic diarrhea could be an indication of a larger problem such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and should not be ignored.