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DIARRHEA

Description:

An intestinal disorder characterized by abnormal fluidity and frequency of bowel movements, often accompanied by abdominal cramps.

Causes:

Common causes of diarrhea include viruses, bacteria, parasites, and medications.

Diarrhea may be caused by a temporary problem, like an infection, or a chronic problem, like an intestinal disease. A few of the more common causes of diarrhea are:

Bacterial infections. Several types of bacteria, consumed through contaminated food or water, can cause diarrhea. Common culprits include Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, and Escherichia coli.

Viral infections. Many viruses cause diarrhea, including rotavirus, Norwalk virus, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus, and viral hepatitis.

Food intolerance’s. Some people are unable to digest some component of food, such as lactose, the sugar found in milk.

Parasites. Parasites can enter the body through food or water and settle in the digestive system.

Reaction to medicines, such as antibiotics, blood pressure medications, and antacids containing magnesium.

Intestinal diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease.

Functional bowel disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, in which the intestines do not work normally.

Some people develop diarrhea after stomach surgery or removal of the gallbladder. The reason may be a change in how quickly food moves through the digestive system after stomach surgery or an increase in bile in the colon that can occur after gallbladder surgery.

In many cases, the cause of diarrhea cannot be found. As long as diarrhea goes away on its own, an extensive search for the cause is not usually necessary.

People who visit foreign countries are at risk for traveler’s diarrhea, which is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or, sometimes, parasites. Traveler’s diarrhea is a particular problem for people visiting developing countries. Visitors to the United States, Canada, most European countries, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand do not face much risk for traveler’s diarrhea. (See “Preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea.”)

What are the symptoms?

Diarrhea may be accompanied by cramping abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, or an urgent need to use the bathroom. Depending on the cause, a person may have a fever or bloody stools.

Diarrhea can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). The acute form, which lasts less than 4 weeks, is usually related to a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection. Chronic diarrhea lasts more than 4 weeks and is usually related to functional disorders like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel diseases like celiac disease.

Complications:

Chronic diarrhea, (lasting more than four weeks) can be an indication of a more serious condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or a less serious condition such as irritable bowel syndrome.

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