What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a condition in which loose, watery stools are passed more often than normal. Diarrhea is a common symptom of a gastrointestinal disturbance. It is characterized by frequent loose stools and may be accompanied by abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, and fatigue. Sometimes there will be blood and/or mucous in the stool. Most adults experience several brief bouts of uncomplicated diarrhea each year. These cases of diarrhea are usually acute and self-limiting, resolving
themselves within a few days and causing nothing more than temporary discomfort. Severe acute diarrhea and chronic diarrhea (lasting several weeks or more), however, can be dangerous, especially to very young children and the elderly. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, and those severely affected by it may need hospitalization. In infants significant dehydration can occur within a couple of days.
Diarrhea results to loss of body fluids and salts leading to dehydration of varying severity. Severe dehydration may cause death especially in children and the elderly. Diarrhea can be a symptom of injury, disease or foodborne illness and is usually accompanied by abdominal pain, and often nausea and vomiting. There are other conditions which involve some but not all of the symptoms of diarrhea, and so the formal medical definition of diarrhea involves defecation of more than 200 grams per day (though formal weighing of stools to determine a diagnosis is never actually carried out). Diarrhea occurs when insufficient fluid is absorbed by the colon. As part of the digestion process, or due to fluid intake, food is mixed with large amounts of water. Thus, digested food is essentially liquid prior to reaching the colon. The colon absorbs water, leaving the remaining material as a semisolid stool. If the colon is damaged or inflamed, however, absorption is inhibited, and watery stools result.
Diarrhea is most commonly caused by myriad viral infections but is also often the result of bacterial toxins and sometimes even infection. In sanitary living conditions and with ample food and water available, an otherwise healthy patient typically recovers from the common viral infections in a few days and at most a week. However, for ill or malnourished individuals diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration and can become life-threatening without treatment. Diarrhea can also be a symptom of more serious diseases, such as dysentery, cholera, or botulism and can also be indicative of a chronic syndrome such as Crohn's disease. It is also an effect of severe radiation sickness. Diarrhea can also be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, especially in someone who doesn't eat enough food.
Diarrhea can be defined in absolute or relative terms based on either the frequency of bowel movements or the consistency (looseness) of stools. Absolute diarrhea is having more bowel movements than normal. Thus, since among healthy individuals the maximum number of daily bowel movements is approximately five, diarrhea can be defined as any number of stools greater than five. Relative diarrhea is having more bowel movements than usual. Thus, if an individual who usually has one bowel movement each day begins to have three bowel movements each day, then diarrhea is present-even though there are not more than five bowel movements a day, that is, there is not absolute diarrhea. Absolute diarrhea is more difficult to define on the basis of the consistency of stool because the consistency of stool can vary considerably in healthy individuals depending on their diets. Thus, individuals who eat large amounts of vegetables will have looser stools than individuals who eat few vegetables. Stools that are liquid or watery are always abnormal and considered diarrheal. Relative diarrhea is easier to define based on the consistency of stool. Thus, an individual who develops looser stools than usual has diarrhea--even though the stools may be within the range of normal with respect to consistency.
More information on diarrhea
What is diarrhea? - Diarrhea is a condition characterized by frequent bowel movements and feces that are soft or watery, and that may contain blood, pus, or mucus. Severe diarrhea in children can lead to dehydration and death.
What causes diarrhea? - Diarrhea may be caused by infections of the digestive system, medicines such as antibiotics, malabsorption, irritable bowel syndrome, or other factors.
What're the symptoms of diarrhea? - Diarrhea is characterized by frequent loose stools. Patients with diarrhea present with various clinical features depending on the underlying cause.
How is diarrhea diagnosed? - Most cases of acute diarrhea never need diagnosis or treatment. The most useful are stool culture and examination for parasites.
What're the treatments for diarrhea? - Treatment is ideally directed toward correcting the cause; however, the first aim should be to prevent or treat dehydration and nutritional deficiencies.
What's acute diarrhea? - Acute diarrhea is a disorder in which people develop loose stools and increased frequency of stools. Acute diarrhea lasts for a day or two and often stops as suddenly as it started.
Infant diarrhea prevention and treatment - Most acute diarrhea in infants and young children is due to viral gastroenteritis and is usually short-lived. Antibiotics are not routinely prescribed for viral gastroenteritis.
What are the causes of acute diarrhea? - The most common causes of acute diarrhea are infectious agents. Other important causes include food poisoning, medications, inflammatory or ischemic bowel disease.
What is chronic diarrhea? - Chronic diarrhea is defined as loose stool that persists for greater than 1 month. Chronic diarrhea is usually caused by a parasite.
What are the causes of chronic diarrhea? - Chronic diarrhea is frequently due to many of the same things that cause the shorter episodes (infections, medications, etc.).
What is traveler's diarrhea? - Traveler's diarrhea is a term used to describe the diarrhea caused by infection with bacteria, protozoa, or viruses ingested by consuming food or water that has been contaminated.
What are the causes of traveler's diarrhea? - Traveler's diarrhea may be caused by any of several bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Cooks and food handlers may have the germs that cause traveler's diarrhea.
What are the symptoms of traveler's diarrhea? - Nausea, vomiting, borborygmi, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea begin 12 to 72 h after ingesting contaminated food or water.
How is traveler's diarrhea diagnosed? - In some cases, a doctor might be able to identify the infecting organism, which could lead to a specific treatment.
What's the treatment for traveler's diarrhea? - Dehydration is the biggest danger of traveler's diarrhea. In most cases, diarrhea ends within three to five days without antibiotic treatment.
How to prevent traveler's diarrhea? - Many cases of traveler's diarrhea can be prevented. Travelers should dine at restaurants with a reputation for safety and avoid foods and beverages from street vendors.