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 loose or watery stools that occur urgently and frequently (more than three times a day).1 Diarrhea is usually a symptom of an infection in the intestinal tract, and it is often accompanied by associated symptoms, such as stomach pain, cramps, gas, nausea, bloating and fatigue. The condition typically lasts a few days (acute), but when it persists for a few weeks (chronic), it needs to be addressed to avoid serious complications.2,3
Why Does Diarrhea Occur?
Diarrhea strikes when food and fluids you consume pass too quickly through the colon, before they have time to form into semi-solid stools, resulting in watery stools that may be accompanied by other unpleasant effects, such as cramps and gas.4 There are various causes for diarrhea.
One 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 (such as rotavirus or norovirus) or bacteria that are often found in contaminated food or water.5
Medications, for example, antibiotics, are another common cause of diarrhea. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria in your colon, disturbing their natural balance. This disturbance can even lead to infection with Clostridium difficile bacteria, a potentially life-threatening infection. Artificial sweeteners like sorbitol and mannitol, which are often used in sugar-free products, can also cause diarrhea in healthy people.6
Important Facts About Diarrhea
Every year, it is estimated that there are 2 billion cases of diarrheal disease worldwide.7 What’s alarming is that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under 5 years old, taking approximately 760,000 lives each year.
The biggest threat posed by diarrhea is dehydration; water and electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium and bicarbonate) are lost through liquid stools, vomit, urine and sweat. If not replaced, dehydration occurs and, if it becomes severe, can even lead to death. However, many cases of diarrheal disease can be avoided with safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and proper hygiene.8 In most cases, the treatment for diarrhea is addressing dehydration; lost fluids and electrolytes are replenished.
You Should Take Diarrhea Seriously
Generally, acute diarrhea will go away on its own without treatment. In adults, diarrhea caused by gastroenteritis will usually clear up in a few days, once your immune system has fought off the infection.9 However, you should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
On the other hand, remember that diarrhea can be serious in babies and children, as they can easily lose too much fluid and become dehydrated faster than adults. If your child has had six or more loose and watery stools within 24 hours, seek medical assistance immediately.10
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.11 These articles will provide you with essential information to help prevent or treat this illness, and avoid serious complications.