What is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a condition where bowel movements are watery or runny, and happen 3 or more times a day. It happens because there is increased water content of the stool, due to impaired water absorption and/or active water secretion by the bowel.¹
How long can Diarrhea last?
The duration of diarrhea can vary depending on the cause and also the management of the condition. The different durations are categorized as follows:¹'³
Acute diarrhea – less than or equals to 2 weeks in duration
Persistent diarrhea – between 2-4 weeks in duration
Chronic diarrhea – more than 4 weeks in duration
What Causes Diarrhea?
Diarrhea can be caused by:²'³
Consumption of contaminated food and water
Side effects from medicines such as antibiotics, laxatives or certain chronic medications
Problems digesting certain types of food such as lactose or gluten intolerance
Diseases that affect the digestive system like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
What are the Symptoms of Diarrhea?
Aside from loose stools, diarrhea can also be accompanied by:⁴
Abdominal pain or cramping
You should see a doctor if:²
You have passed watery stools more than 6 times in 24 hours
You have blood in your stools
You have a fever higher than 38.5ºC that persists
You have severe stomach ache
You are aged 70 or older
You experience signs of dehydration
Extremely yellow urine
How to Stop Diarrhea?
Drink adequate fluids that contain water, salt and sugar. Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), which have a specific mixture of salt and sugar, are widely available over-the-counter and are the best first-line treatment.⁴
Eat some food as adequate nutrition is important. Food like potatoes, crackers, bananas, noodles, rice, wheat, and oats with salt is recommended.⁴
Practice good hygiene by washing your hands before and after food preparation and eating, after using the bathroom or after handling garbage. This will help to prevent the spread of infection.⁴
You can also take probiotics to help maintain a healthy digestive system. Probiotics are what people call ‘good bacteria’ which can help with digestive issues like diarrhea.⁵
There are anti-diarrheal medicines that you can get from the pharmacy or clinic such as loperamide or diphenoxylate-atropine. Some doctors may prescribe antibiotics but they are not needed in most cases of acute diarrhea because they may potentially worsen symptoms.⁴
Other precautions that can be taken to prevent diarrhea include:⁴
Do not drink unpasteurised milk or take raw foods
Store raw foods separately from other foods
Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption
Wash hands and kitchen tools after handling uncooked food
Cook eggs until the yolk is firm
Ensure foods like meat and mushrooms are thoroughly cooked before consumption
Avoid leaving cooked foods at room temperature for more than 2 hours
Diarrhea can be caused by infections and also many other factors.
One of the most important treatments for diarrhea is by rehydrating with adequate fluids containing salts and sugars.
Practice strict personal hygiene to prevent spreading infectious diarrhea to others around you.
LaRocque R, et al. Approach to the adult with acute diarrhea in resource-rich settings. In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021
Patient education: Diarrhea in adolescents and adults (The Basics). In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021
Martin MG, et al. Overview of the causes of chronic diarrhea in children in resource-rich settings. In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021
LaRocque R et al. Patient education: Acute diarrhea in adults (Beyond the Basics). In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021
Butel M-J. Probiotics, gut microbiota and health. Médecine et Maladies Infectieuses. 2014;44(1):1-8.
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