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Diarrhea is the condition of watery, loose bowel movements or stools which occur frequently. In developing countries five to eight million people per year die from acute infection diarrhea – it is particularly dangerous to infants. These deaths are primarily due to poor sewage treatment and lack of a safe water supply.


There are two types of diarrhea, chronic and acute. Acute diarrhea is also called enteritis and it is defined as diarrhea lasting less than four weeks. Acute diarrhea is almost always infective diarrhea. With acute diarrhea fluids should be increased and it should run its course. A stool sample may be evaluated for organisms that cause acute diarrhea. The most common organisms that cause acute diarrhea are campylobacter, salmonella, cryptosporidium, giardia lamblia, and shigilla. E. coli is a common cause of bacteria in people who travel; its structure varies from place to place and it is difficult to detect using the available testing. Rotavirus is a common cause of diarrhea in children. Toxins and food poisoning can also cause acute diarrhea, such as staphylococcal and bacillus cereus. Parasites and worms can cause diarrhea, but are usually other symptoms are present. These symptoms are anal itching, rashes, and weight loss. Amoebic dysentery can cause bloody diarrhea in travelers and requires specific medical intervention to eliminate this from the digestive tract.

Chronic diarrhea is another class of diarrhea. This diarrhea persists and may be caused by organisms, mal absorption in the small bowel, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Mal absorption in the small bowel can be cased by celiac disease, lactose intolerance, short bowel syndrome, cystic fibrosis of the pancreas, and pernicious anemia. Inflammatory bowel disease can be Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is (IBS) has no direct treatment, since it is a generic term used to cover a persistent condition. Underlying conditions which cause irritable bowel syndrome have to be treated in order to treat the chronic diarrhea. Irritable bowel syndrome can be caused by food allergies, celiac disease, and bacterial dysbiosis.


Abdominal cramping and pain, fever, blood in stools, loose stools that are frequent and watery and bloating are all signs and symptoms of diarrhea. Nausea and vomiting may occur prior to an episode of diarrhea. If the diarrhea is caused by a bacterial or parasitic infection, then bloody stools and fever may be presenting symptoms.


To diagnose the cause of the diarrhea, a complete physical exam is required, including listening to the abdomen, possibly a rectal exam and complete history of the diarrhea symptoms. Medications, travel, virus, bacterium and parasites can all cause diarrhea. If a parasitic infection is suspected, a stool sample or blood test may be ordered.

Chronic diarrhea (lasting more than five days, or recurring episodes) can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Patients with chronic diarrhea need to have a complete medical exam that will screen for a variety of causes.


Diarrhea that lasts longer than five days or causes dehydration requires a visit to a medical practitioner or clinic. Dehydration is marked by dry mouth, extreme thirst, dry skin, headache, decreased urination, weakness, vertigo, light headedness or dark urine. If the patient also has a fever above 101 F, severe rectal or abdominal pain and bloody or black stools, medical consultation should be sought immediately.

Small children and infants can dehydrate quickly from diarrhea. This can become serious and life threatening. If diarrhea lasts more that two days children should be seen by a doctor. If a baby has not had a wet diaper in three or more hours, has a fever, dry mouth – or tearless crying, is sleepy or unresponsive, has bloody or black bowel movements and the eyes are hallowed or sunken – he or she should be taken to the emergency room immediately.

Treatment for diarrhea depends on the cause. Most of the type diarrhea will clear up on its own. Most likely, a physician will recommend replacement of fluids and vital salts and electrolytes needed for bodily functioning. Electrolytes are minerals that help to maintain the body’s electric currents and the heart to beat. An imbalance of electrolytes can become a serious condition.

Diarrhea can be caused by taking antibiotics. When this is the cause, a physician may prescribe probiotics to balance the flora in the intestinal tract.

Parasitic infections can also cause diarrhea and need to be treated with the appropriate medication. Bacterial diarrhea can be treated with antibiotics. This is treating the bacterium, which is the underlying cause, though it may temporarily make the diarrhea worse. Viral diarrhea needs to run a course, antibiotics will not relieve or eliminate viral diarrhea.

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