DIARRHOEA: causes, treatment and prevention
Diarrhoea is when you have frequent loose watery bowel motions. In most cases, the symptoms resolve on their own within a couple of days without the need for medical treatment.
Furthermore, diarrhoea that lasts one or two days and goes away on its own is known as acute diarrhoea, which is a common condition that affects people of all ages.
Also, diarrhoea lasting four weeks or more (whether continuous or intermittent) is known as chronic diarrhoea and can be a symptom of an underlying chronic disease or condition.
It is usually caused by a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection of the bowels. Diarrhoea caused by any of these infections is referred to as gastroenteritis.
Furthermore, travel to places where the climate or sanitary practices differ form one’s home country may cause short-term gastroenteritis. Besides that, it is known as traveller’s diarrhoea.
The most common causes of chronic diarrhoea are underlying diseases or conditions, including:
- Gluten intolerance (e.g. coeliac disease)
- Lactose intolerance (inability to properly digest lactose in dairy products)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Chronic bowel infection
- Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Bowel cancer.
Signs and symptoms
The main symptom is loose, watery bowel motions (stools, faeces) three or more times a day.
Accompanying signs and symptoms may include:
- Urgent need to go to the toilet
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Change in colour of your stools
- Mucous, pus, blood, or fat in your stools
- General body weakness and tiredness.
It is easily diagnosed by its symptoms.
Furthermore, if it lasts longer than two or three days, or is accompanied by symptoms such as fever or bloody stools.
These diagnostic tests could include:
- Stool culture to test for infection
- Blood tests to rule out other diseases
- Fasting tests to reveal food intolerances
- Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to look for signs of inflammatory bowel diseases (these tests involve using a device with thin flexible tube and a camera and light at one end to look inside the bowel).
You should see a doctor if you or your baby / child develop any of the following signs:
- Blood, pus, or mucous in stools
- A rash
- Diarrhoea lasting longer than one week or gets better and comes back
- New or worse symptoms.
Chronic or severe diarrhoea can lead to a rapid one, which is the excessive loss of fluids from the body. Dehydration is particularly dangerous in infants and children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
The signs and symptoms of dehydration include:
- Extreme thirst
- Little or no urine passed in the last eight hours
- Urine is dark in colour and smelly
- Reduced saliva in the mouth, dry lips, no tears, sunken cheeks or eyes
- Infants may have dry nappies (for longer than 4-6 hours) and/or have a sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on top of a baby’s head)
- Dizziness, lethargy, floppiness
- Rapid heart rate and breathing
- Cold hands and feet
- Skin that does not relax after being pinched.
Because most cases resolve on their own within a day or two, self-care to relieve symptoms is usually sufficient for treatment:
- Avoid caffeine, dairy products, and also greasy, high fibre, or sugary foods
- Placing a hot water bottle or wheat pack on your stomach, or taking paracetamol (e.g. Panadol), may provide some relief from abdominal cramps
- Apply zinc and castor oil ointment or a barrier cream to affected areas if you, or your child, develops a rash (like nappy rash) from the diarrhoea
- Avoid taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or diclofenac, for pain relief as these medications can cause these.
- Anti-diarrhoeal medications that slow it (e.g. Imodium) should be avoid as these drugs prevent your body from getting rid of the bacteria or virus.
To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of liquid every day, taking small, frequent sips.
Furthermore, ideal liquids are also clear thin broths or soups, diluted non-caffeinated sports drinks.
Hand washing is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of viruses and bacteria. Furthermore, you should always wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet, changing nappies, and also before meals.
The following rules when preparing food can also help prevent these:
- Always put foods that could spoil in the fridge
- Ensure that meat is cook thoroughly
- Also, avoid eating raw meats, fish, and shellfish unless you are sure that they have been freshly prepare and are also from a reliable source
- Never place meat on surfaces or plates that have held raw meat
- Disinfect bench tops, stove tops, and chopping boards with a diluted bleach solution.
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