According to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), there are approximately 179 million cases of acute diarrhea in the U.S. every year.1 A lot of people think this is just a simple illness that will go away on its own.
However, diarrhea should be taken seriously because it’s an indication that something is not right in your body, and may even be fatal if not addressed. But what exactly is diarrhea, what makes it dangerous and how can you prevent this illness?
Basic Diarrhea Facts You Need to Know
Diarrhea is defined as having unusually loose or watery stools that occur more frequently than usual. It is an illness that everyone has experienced at one time or another and usually leads to a greater volume of stool and more frequent trips to the toilet.2
In most cases, it is triggered by an infection caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. There are three types of diarrhea, defined by how long the illness persists:3
- Acute. This is when the condition only lasts a short time — typically between several hours to a few days, and no longer than two weeks. According to world guidelines, acute diarrhea is having three or more abnormally loose or watery stools in a 24-hour period.
- Persistent. If the illness continues for more than 14 days but less than 28.
- Chronic. This is diarrhea that persists for longer than 28 days.
You Should Take Diarrhea Seriously
Most of the time, diarrhea passes in a day or two, but if it persists for several days, it may indicate a more serious condition.
If you have severe diarrhea that lasts several days and comes with other disturbing symptoms, such as bloody stools, nausea and vomiting, severe abdominal pain and weight loss, you need to seek immediate medical care.4
Worldwide, diarrhea causes the death of 2,195 children every day — more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.5 This illness can be fatal because it depletes body fluids and causes profound dehydration. If you or a loved one is suffering from diarrhea, watch out for these warning signs of dehydration:
Infants and Young Children
||Dry mouth and tongue
|Less frequent urination than usual
||No wet diapers for at least three hours
||No tears when crying
||Sunken eyes, cheeks or a soft spot in the skull
|Dizziness or light-headedness
||Irritability or listlessness
Also, remember that when someone is dehydrated, his or her skin does not flatten back to normal immediately after being gently pinched and then released. Any person with these signs should consult a physician immediately.6
The Importance of Diarrhea Prevention and Treatment
It is alarming how many lives are lost to diarrhea each year, especially because these deaths are preventable. In fact, most diarrhea-related complications can be avoided with simple and low-cost natural interventions.7 By drinking safe and pure water and practicing correct handwashing, adequate sanitation and proper human waste disposal, the incidence of diarrhea can be reduced drastically.