What causes diarrhea?
One of the most common diseases that plague us, especially the unseasoned traveller is the famous traveller's diarrhea. When abroad, we tend to suffer more than when at home as we encounter uncommon bacteria and can't always adhere to the same hygienic circumstances like we do at home.
Your digestive system is sensitive to dietary and lifestyle changes. When unfamiliar substances, like bacteria and viruses, make their way into your body, digestive problems can occur, the most common of which is diarrhea.
Diarrhea is characterized by watery stools that occur urgently and frequently. Diarrhea is usually a symptom of an infection in the intestines. Diarrhea often is accompanied by symptoms such as cramps, gas, nausea, bloating and fatigue.
In most cases, diarrhea is triggered by an infection caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites.
Depending on the length of time, you may be hit by acute diarrhea (between several hours to a few days up to 2 weeks), persistent diarrhea (14-28 days) and chronic diarrhea (more than 28 days).
When diarrhea persists for a few weeks, it needs to be addressed to avoid serious complications.
Diarrhea strikes when food and fluids you consume pass too quickly and/or are too large in amount through the colon. Normally, your colon absorbs liquids from food, resulting in a semi-solid stool, but if these liquids are not absorbed, you get watery stools.
A common reason for this condition in both children and adults is an infection of the bowel called gastroenteritis, which may be caused by a parasite, a virus or bacteria that are often found in contaminated food or water.
Antibiotics are another common cause of diarrhea as it kills both good and bad bacteria, disturbing the natural balance.
Some artificial sweeteners like sorbitol can also cause diarrhea in healthy people.
The biggest threat posed by diarrhea is dehydration: water and electrolytes are lost through liquid stools. If not replaced, dehydration occurs and if it becomes severe, can even lead to death.
However, many cases of diarrhea can be avoided with safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and proper hygiene. In most cases, the treatment for diarrhea is addressing dehydration; lost fluids and electrolytes are replenished.
Generally, acute diarrhea will go away on its own without treatment. In adults, diarrhea caused by gastroenteritis will usually clear up in two to four days, once your immune system has fought off the infection. However, you should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Diarrhea can be very serious in babies and children, as they can easily lose too much fluid and become dehydrated faster than adults. If a child has had six or more loose and watery stools within 24 hours, seek medical assistance immediately.
Diarrhea is also one of the major causes of nutritional loss due to reduced food intake and decreased nutrient absorption. Hence, it can pose severe risks to your health.
Every year, it is estimated that there are 2 billion cases of diarrheal disease worldwide. Aaccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under 5 years old, taking almost 1 million lives each year, more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
Dehydration can be detected from excessive thirst, dry skin, fatigue and dizziness. In infants it is visible from seeing a dry mouth, a high fever, not having wet diapers and crying without tears.
For children, medication is not recommended. Instead it is better to give plenty fluids, including water and bone broths. Avoid sweetened and carbonated beverages.
Vegetable soups are also recommended, but avoid gassy vegetables like beans, cabbage and broccoli.
If the child can eat solid food, high-pectin foods like bananas and apple sauce are recommended. Pectin is a water-soluble fiber that can help reduce diarrhea.
Probiotics from either yoghurt (with bifidus cultures), Sauerkraut or a high-quality children's probiotic supplement will also help.