This condition is characterized by stools which are frequent and watery. While common diarrhea usually resolves itself in a day or two, and the individual suffering from it can experience nausea, abdominal pain and sometimes fever. Most episodes of diarrhea last anywhere from a few days to four weeks or less, but when this condition persists it can be life threatening. Even short bouts of this condition can lead to dehydration, but can also cause a serious imbalance of electrolytes.
Electrolytes are the minerals which regulate potassium and sodium in the bloodstream. Low levels of electrolytes can be especially dangerous for the elderly and for children.
Causes of Diarrhea
Diarrhea is caused by the bacteria found in contaminated food or water. This condition can also be caused by viruses and by parasites. Some food intolerances can cause diarrhea, as well as certain medications, such as antacids and antibiotics.
Diarrhea which has become chronic in an individual may actually be caused by Coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or inflammatory bowel disease. Anxiety can also be a factor in some cases of diarrhea.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
Loose and watery stools are the obvious symptoms of this condition, but they can be accompanied by nausea and on occasion, fever. Bloating and flatulence are also not uncommon. As mentioned above, a symptom of life-threatening diarrhea is dehydration, causing an imbalance of electrolytes.
How Diarrhea is Diagnosed
A wide range of tests can be utilized to diagnose this condition, particularly because diarrhea can have so many different causes. A flexible tube called an endoscope can be used to examine the colon or the rectum, as well as the stomach and upper small intestine.
Anyone who is experiencing a bout of diarrhea should consume lots of fluids and eat a fairly bland diet to help cure the condition. Adults may also take an anti-diarrheal medication, but should avoid those medicines which decrease bowel movement until a physician has properly diagnosed the condition.
Water is important to alleviating this condition but does not contain any electrolytes. To renew the crucial electrolytes to the system, one can drink fruit juices, sports drinks, or salted broths. Pediatric solutions containing electrolytes are essential for children when they are stricken with diarrhea.
For a truly bland (and non-irritating) diet, go with the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) while extremely ill with this condition. Slowly add other bland foods to the mix, such as crackers, boiled potatoes, carrots and skinless baked chicken.
Dairy products should be avoided during this time for infants and soy products should be the mainstay.
As for medications, several over-the-counter medications can ease the symptoms of viral diarrhea, but they can also worsen a diarrhea caused by bacteria by trapping bacteria in the intestines. See a physician for antibiotics to ease this condition.
To make use of natural treatments for this condition, there are several herbal approaches to consider. All of the herbs contain at least one of three natural ingredients which aid in stopping diarrhea: these are mucilage, pectin and tannin.
Mucilage helps to soothe the digestive tract and adds bulk to watery stools by absorbing water and swelling.
Pectin is a soluble fiber that soothes the stomach and adds bulk to stools. Kaopectate, an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication, contains pectin.
Tannins are chemicals which allow some herbs to bind up or contract tissues. The astringent action of tannins reduces inflammation in the intestines. Binding to the protein layer of the inflamed mucous membranes, tannins cause them to thicken, slowing the absorption of materials which are toxic to the body and restricting secretions.
The following herbs can be useful in treating diarrhea:
- Bilberry and blueberry – Use of these fruits for treating diarrhea should be with dried fruits, not fresh. Dried bilberry and blueberry are rich in pectins and tannins.
- Apple – The pulp of apples is very high in pectin. This is the basis for the folk remedies which utilize apples and apple pulp for treating diarrhea.
- Agrimony – This herb is endorsed for use in treating diarrhea, probably because it is very high in tannins. A tea can be made using two to three teaspoons of agrimony leaves.
- Carob – Carob powder can be an effective treatment for diarrhea, and is especially well-suited for children.
- Carrots - Cooked carrots can be a good treatment for infants. When cooked, carrots help to soothe the digestive tract. They also control diarrhea and replace some of the nutrients which were lost during the diarrhea attack.
- Fengreek – The seeds from fegreek contain some 50% mucilage, causing them to swell in the stomach and relieve diarrhea. This herb is also useful in treating constipation by loosening stools. Take two teaspoons at a time: more can cause abdominal pain.
- Tea – Even conventional teas from commercial teabags have a lot of astringent qualities and are excellent for treating diarrhea.
Prevention of Diarrhea
Many cases of diarrhea can be avoided by simply washing produce, refrigerating it, and eating it soon after it is purchased. This prevents bacteria from growing on it. The kitchen surfaces which are used to prepare meats during cooking should be cleaned and disinfected frequently.
Do not use tap water or ice when visiting areas which lack proper hygiene, and do not buy food from street vendors. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables in these areas, as well as room-temperature or rare meat or fish. One should always avoid unpasteurized dairy products.
Probiotic supplements can aid in preventing diarrhea which is caused by antibiotics.
Who is at Risk
Nearly everyone is at risk for contracting diarrhea at some point. Factors which can contribute to a case of diarrhea include:
- Viral infections
- Water- or food-borne bacterial infections
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Antacids, blood pressure medication and antibiotics
- Coeliac disease
- Thyroid, pancreatic or adrenal conditions
- Irritable bowel syndrome
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