Diarrhea- What Causes Diarrhea?

By: james sameul

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is loose, watery stools. A person with diarrhea typically passes stool more than three times a day. People with diarrhea may pass more than a quart of stool a day. Acute diarrhea is a common problem that usually lasts 1 or 2 days and goes away on its own without special treatment. Prolonged diarrhea persisting for more than 2 days may be a sign of a more serious problem and poses the risk of dehydration. Chronic diarrhea may be a feature of a chronic disease.

Diarrhea can cause dehydration, which means the body lacks enough fluid to function properly. Dehydration is particularly dangerous in children and older people, and it must be treated promptly to avoid serious health problems.

Causes of Diarrhea

Food -- Most people have certain foods that may cause diarrhea. For hot pepper lovers (the chemical in it is called capaiscin), diarrhea often occurs the morning after. Many people are intolerant of milk and milk products so that even small amounts of the milk sugar lactose can cause diarrhea. Large amounts of fatty foods cause the same problem in other people. The obvious solution in all these instances is to avoid the offending agent.

Chemical Laxatives -- Many people become dependent on laxatives early in life and use them on a daily basis. The names for the usual chemical stimulants are magnesium (Epsom salt), cascara (Nature's Remedy), and phenolphthalein (Exlax, Correctol, Feen-A-Mint).

Magnesium can be inadvertently ingested in various over-the-counter preparations such as Maalox or Mylanta. Check labels! Sorbitol is an artificial sweetener that is used in sugar free gum and prepared foods such as jams and jellies. Sorbitol, too, is a laxative.

People in developing countries suffer most from infectious forms of diarrhea. Most infections pass through a fecal-oral route. This results from environmental causes such as poor sanitation, decreased access to clean water, and a poor understanding of transmission and treatment of disease. These are conditions that arise most frequently in the developing world, though they affect both rural and urban populations. Improvements in these areas result in a dramatic reduction of cases of infectious diarrhea, as shown in studies in numerous developing nations, such as India, Gambia, and elsewhere, where poor socioeconomic status affects a large percentage of the population. Traveler's diarrhea is the result of exposure to such infectious agents when visiting countries where sanitation is inadequate.

Reye Syndrome: Diarrhea is a possible symptom of Reye syndrome in infants, especially when accompanied by fever, malaise, vomiting, upper respiratory symptoms, behavioral changes, tachypnea, and apneic episodes.5 Use of salicylates (i.e., aspirin) may be associated with the development of Reye syndrome in children or teens with influenza or chicken pox. Thus, a patient who has ingested a salicylate and is experiencing diarrhea along with these symptoms should be immediately referred.

Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea (AAD): Oral antibiotics often cause diarrhea, with an onset ranging from several hours after the first dose to two months after the last dose.6 The pharmacist should refer the patient with AAD, since the physician must make a choice whether to test for the presence of Clostridium difficile. The wisdom of continuing the causal antibiotic must also be considered as to the seriousness of the underlying infection for which it was prescribed.

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