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Diarrhoea: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is a common condition characterised by increased frequency and reduced consistency of stool. It is defined as 3 or more than 3 loose or watery motions in a day. Diarrhoea is a symptom of many diseases. It may also be an adverse effect of certain medications.

Diarrhoea: Incidence, age and sex

Diarrhoea is a fairly common condition encountered in the general population. It may be seen in any age group including infants, children, adults and older adults. Diarrhoea in itself is not a serious condition in adults but it may precipitate life-threatening conditionsl in children, especially infants.

Signs and symptoms of diarrhoea: Diagnosis

Diarrhoea in itself, is a clinical feature of several diseases including infections and allergy. An individual with diarrhoea may complain of watery or loose stools which may or may not be accompanied with abdominal discomfort. Other associated features may include nausea, vomiting or a sensation of abdominal bloating. The spectrum of clinical features depends upon the underlying cause. For example, diarrhoea caused by a bacterial infection may also result in fever. Moreover, diarrhoea may be varied in its presentation which again depends upon its causative factor. It can be a brief, self-limiting episode or a recurrent and long standing problem.

The gastroenterologist would like to take a detailed history and conduct a comprehensive physical examination before advising any tests. Standard blood tests may reveal increased white blood cell count which is an indication of bacterial infection. Other diagnostic tests like barium meal which is a contrast-based x-ray study of the intestines and invasive tests like colonoscopy, may be needed to diagnose disorders like inflammatory bowel diseases and malabsorption syndrome.

Causes and prevention of diarrhoea

There are various causes which may result in diarrhoea - of which infection of the intestines is the commonest. This infection may be bacterial, viral or parasitic in nature. Certain diseases like irritable bowel disease, malabsorption syndrome, ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease may also exhibit diarrhoea as their prominent symptom. Some individuals may experience diarrhoea on intake of milk and milk products. This condition is called lactose intolerance. Diarrhoea may also result as an adverse effect of some medications like antibiotics and chemotherapeutic agents.

Furthermore, emotional and psychological conditions like stress, anxiety or tension may also result in diarrhoea. Infectious diarrhoea may be prevented by maintaining adequate hygiene measures and avoidance of consuming uncooked food without washing.

Diarrhoea: Complications

Diarrhoea which causes extensive fluid loss may result in dehydration which may be evident by dry skin, sunken eyes and palpitations. Dehydration is generally not grave until and unless it is encountered in infants and children in whom it may be potentially fatal if not treated urgently. Longstanding diarrhoea may result in nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.

Diarrhoea: Treatment

It is essential to evaluate the cause of diarrhoea and manage it effectively. Meanwhile, it is important to replenish the dehydrated body with sufficient fluids. Fruit juices are better avoided since they irritate the intestinal mucosa and cause increased intestinal disruption. Semi-solid diet is generally helpful in this condition. Moreover medications like anti-motility agents may be helpful in reducing the frequency of loose stools. Other medications like antibiotics and anti-parasitic agents may be prescribed, depending upon the aetiology.