||Gastrointestinal Conditions. Diarrhea.
||What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is defined either as watery stool, or increased frequency, or
both, when compared to a normal amount. It is a common problem
that may last a few days and disappear on its own.
Diarrhea may be acute (short-term), which is usually related to bacterial or viral infections, or chronic (long-term),
which is usually related to a functional disorder or intestinal disease.
What causes diarrhea?
Diarrhea may be caused by a number of conditions, including the following:
a bacterial infection
a viral infection
food intolerances or allergies
a reaction to medications
an intestinal disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease
a functional bowel disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome
a result of surgery on the stomach or gall bladder
Many people suffer "traveler's diarrhea" caused by a bacterial infection or a parasite, or even food poisoning.
Severe diarrhea may indicate a serious disease, and it is important to consult your physician if the symptoms
persist or affect daily activities. Identifying the cause of the problem may be difficult.
What are the symptoms of diarrhea?
The following are the most common symptoms of diarrhea. However, each individual may experience symptoms
differently. Symptoms may include:
urgent need to use the restroom
Dehydration is one of the more serious side effects of diarrhea. Symptoms of dehydration include:
dry skin and mucous membranes (dry mouth, nostrils)
increased heart rate
depressed fontanelle (soft spot) on infant's head
The symptoms of diarrhea may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for
How is diarrhea diagnosed?
In addition to a complete physical examination and laboratory tests for blood and urine, diagnostic procedures for
diarrhea may include the following:
stool culture - checks for the presence of abnormal bacteria in the digestive tract that may cause diarrhea and
other problems. A small sample of stool is collected and sent to a laboratory by your physician's office. In two or
three days, the test will show whether abnormal bacteria are present.
sigmoidoscopy - a diagnostic procedure that allows the physician to examine the inside of a portion of the large
intestine, and is helpful in identifying the causes of diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, abnormal growths, and
bleeding. A short, flexible, lighted tube, called a sigmoidoscope, is inserted into the intestine through the rectum.
The scope blows air into the intestine to inflate it and make viewing the inside easier.
colonoscopy - a procedure that allows the physician to view the entire length of the large intestine, and can often
help identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding. It involves inserting a colonoscope, a long,
flexible, lighted tube, in through the rectum up into the colon. The colonoscope allows the physician to see the
lining of the colon, remove tissue for further examination, and possibly treat some problems that are discovered.
Treatment for diarrhea:
Specific treatment for diarrhea will be determined by your physician based on:
your age, overall health, and medical history
extent of the condition
your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
expectations for the course of the condition
your opinion or preference
Treatment usually involves replacing lost fluids, and may include antibiotics when bacterial infections are the
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