Just about everyone at one time has had diarrhea in their lives. It is so common, that most individuals have diarrhea a few times a year. Diarrhea is described as having loose or watery stools, in a higher frequency than normal. Most cases of diarrhea are self limited and will go away on their own, but in some cases diarrhea can lead to dehydration or be a sign of a more serious problem.
What causes diarrhea?
There are many causes of diarrhea from acute self limited food poisoning to more chronic conditions. Below is a brief list of a few conditions which can cause diarrhea:
• Infections (bacterial, toxin, viral, parasitic)
• Reaction to medication
• Celiac Disease (Gluten sensitivity)
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
• Ulcerative Colitis
• Crohn’s Disease
• Bacterial Overgrowth
• Food Intolerance and Food Allergy
• Endocrine and Hormonal problems
When should I see a doctor?
Diarrhea can quickly cause dehydration. Therefore you may want to increase your fluid intake with electrolyte rich liquids. Although each case needs to be taken individually, below are some guidelines as to when you may need to be seen by a doctor:
- The symptoms persist after 48 hours
- If there are any black, bloody or mucus stools
- You have more than 6 runny bowel movements in 24 hours
- If you have significant abdominal pain
- If you have recently taken antibiotics
- Anyone over the age of 70
- Anyone who demonstrates signs of dehydration
What tests are usually done?
The most common tests for diarrhea are simple blood, urine and stool examination studies. Based on these tests your doctor may initiate treatment with antibiotics or anti-diarrheal agents. If the diarrhea is a chronic diarrhea (more than 3-4 weeks) then referral to a Gastroenterologist may be necessary. Some tests a Gastroenterologist may perform are:
- Detailed history and physical examination
- Capsule Endoscopy
- Specific blood work
Although diarrhea is very common, you can reduce your chances of getting and spreading diarrhea by washing your hands frequently, practicing good food safety, and limiting contact with others while having an acute bout of diarrhea. Contact your doctor if you feel weak or beginning to become dehydrated or have any of the above symptoms. If the diarrhea doesn’t go away, then a referral to a Gastroenterologist may be necessary.