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Diarrhea, sometimes spelled diarrhoea, is a not uncommon though in some cases potentially serious disorder of the digestive system that most individuals will suffer on a not infrequent basis.  In its chronic form, diarrhea can last for extensive periods of time lasting in excess of four weeks.  The reason for this, like other symptomatic issues such as fever, is that it may in fact point to a far more dangerous or at least more serious issue, for example inflammatory bowel disease, or it may in fact be a result of something less serious but still discomfiting, such as IBS or irritiable bowel syndrome.  Generally characterized by what the Mayo Clinic describes as a “loose-stool consistency,” diarrhea most often lasts a few days and can result in cramps, watery stool that may derive from any number of causes.


Although diarrhea is in most cases not a particularly serious disorder it is a medical condition and should you require competent and certified medical advice it is always recommended that you contact a trained and licensed health care provider such as your family physician.  The scope of this article is to outline some of the symptoms of diarrhea, to mention some of the causes of diarrhea and the available treatments for this digestive disorder.


Symptoms of Diarrhea

Although the signs and symptoms of diarrhea are generally well known, it is helpful to review what can result from this difficult and problematic digestive disorder that affects so many individuals on a regular basis.  Symptoms can include fever, a bloated feeling, abdominal pain and potentially cramps, the presence of blood in the stool and most definably, a constant watery, loose stool.  As diarrhea may accompany an infection of some sort, or even an infection of a parasitic nature, nausea as well as for some individuals vomiting may occur in conjunction with or in fact preceding the symptomatic experience of diarrhea.

What Causes Diarrhea?

In the first place, it is important to generally understand how the digestive process functions as food matter passes from the stomach and through the intestines into the colon.  The food matter is normally very liquid upon leaving the stomach and one of the functions of the colon is the absorption of excess liquid as the food moves through this passage in the alimentary canal.  In a purely physical description of diarrhea, what occurs is that this excess liquid is, for whatever reason, not fully absorbed.  This disorder is at times known by the term malabsorption.  Diarrhea occurs when too much is digested at once or in some cases too quickly causing the water that would otherwise normally be absorbed by the colon to remain within the food matter as it passes into feces.  Other causes for this lack of excess water absorption can be an inflammation of the colon that may be a result of any number of potential causes, some of which are outlined below.

Diarrhea is in most cases caused by viral, bacterial or parasitical infections.  The Mayo Clinic notes that some of the viruses that cause diarrhea include the Norwalk virus, cytomegalovirus, viral hepatitis, the herpes simplex virus and in children, rotavirus.  It should be noted that in the case of viral infections that cause diarrhea they are often characterized by their ability to rapidly spread among individuals and affected populations.  Bacterial and parasitical infections most often are derived from food or water that has been contaminated by a given parasite or bacterial infestation.  There are a number of bacteria which may cause diarrhea in individuals who are infected, especially experienced by those who travel to less developed nations, and some of the more common ones that an individual may become infected with are Escherichia coli, salmonella, shigella and campylobacter.  Some common parasitical infections include Giardia lamblia and a parasite known as cryptosporidium. 

There are a number of other potential causes of diarrhea including lactose for the lactose intolerant, it may be the side effect of certain medications, for those with a sensitivity to artificial sweeteners this may be a potential side effect and in addition anyone who has recently had surgery or suffers from any number of other digestive disorder may also suffer from diarrhea as a concomitant result of these occurrences.

How to treat diarrhea

In the vast majority of cases there are no forms of treatment required for diarrhea as it most often ceases to be symptomatic within a couple of days.  The most frequent home remedy is to ensure that the fluids and essential salts that are lost as a result of diarrhea are replenished in order to ensure that your body has a health level of both.  The reason that it is important to keep these levels at a reasonably health point is that a lack of water, or dehydration, can lead to serious consequences as can an imbalance in the electrolytes or salts in the body.

As diarrhea can be caused by any number of other causes if it should not go away of its own accord it is strongly recommended that a physician be consulted.  Treatments for diarrhea in these cases will more likely be directly related to the treatment of whichever it is that is behind the diarrhea that is essentially a symptomatic result of something such as a bacterial or viral infection.

How is diarrhea prevented?

Generally, the best way to avoid diarrhea is simply to enforce a high level of hygiene in one’s daily activities and by paying particularly attention to what you eat.  This includes the regular washing of hands, the consumption of only dairy products that have been fully pasteurized, to avoid water that is not bottled if the supply is not completely safe.  Precautions such as these will most likely prevent diarrhea in cases where it is caused by factors such as a viral or bacterial infection or potentially if it is as a result of parasitical causes.  As always, this medical condition, because it may be symptomatic of a more serious medical disorder, should it not go away of its own accord, is best treated according to the directives of a health care professional such as your local family physician.