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Causes of diarrhea and when to worry

Diarrhea (also spelled diarrhoea) is a common problem and a common cause of death in Third World countries. Here in the West, however, it is entirely treatable and typically amounts to nothing more than a nuisance.

Diarrhea is characterized by frequent watery or loose bowel movements. It can cause nutritional deficiencies, dehydration and fatigue if left unchecked, but most instances of diarrhea are short-lived and will clear up on their own or with the help of over-the-counter products.

Diarrhea Causes and Symptoms

There are numerous causes of diarrhea, including viruses, parasites and bacteria (common in what's known as "traveler's diarrhea"). Other, more serious illnesses can also cause diarrhea, so it's important to monitor your condition and keep track of any other symptoms you may be experiencing. Medications and emotional stress are other causes, but most commonly, diarrhea is simply caused by improper food digestion, where the food passes too quickly through the digestive system.

Symptoms of diarrhea include stomach cramps, fever, chills, weakness, a decrease in urination and a frequent uncontrollable urge to defecate. In order to prevent the malnutrition and dehydration caused by losing water and nutrients, take in lots of fluids and nutrient supplements if you are suffering from the condition.

Diarrhea Treatment

Acute diarrhea typically lasts only a day or two, therefore treatment beyond over-the-counter diarrhea medications and plenty of fluids may not be required. If you experience chronic diarrhea (or diarrhea lasting beyond 48 hours), it is recommended that you see a doctor. He or she can run tests to determine whether there is a more serious illness causing the condition.

In the case of infant diarrhea, symptoms such as dehydration, malnutrition and severe cramping can occur more quickly. Though most cases are caused by viral gastroenteritis and will pass quickly, it is still best to have your child evaluated by a pediatrician to ensure the symptoms don't get out of hand.

Conditions Related to Diarrhea

Though it is in fact the very opposite of diarrhea, the first related condition that springs to mind is constipation because it is also commonly suffered. More serious conditions related to diarrhea include:

  • Dysentery (a condition where blood is present in the stool)
  • Crohns disease and colitis (two types of inflammatory bowel disease)

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