Loose, watery stools usually recognize diarrhea. Generally, the episodes recur at least three times a day. Diarrhea is a common problem that usually lasts for two or three days and then disappears on its own. It is possible to assume a more serious problem, such as chronic diarrhea, if the episodes last longer. The latter consists of discharges of diarrhea that last over time for at least two or three weeks and which may be accompanied by other clinical manifestations, such as weight loss , abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea, fever or poor absorption of nutrients by the organism.
Types of diarrhea
There are four types of diarrhea: diarrhea due to malabsorption (osmotic), secretory diarrhea, diarrhea caused by damage to the intestinal wall, and diarrhea caused by impaired mobility.
Prognosis of chronic diarrhea
Today, diarrhea continues to be a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in underdeveloped countries , affecting up to 5% of the world’s population.
Among the various risk factors are malnutrition or lack of breast milk. It should be emphasized that in our countries the incidence of chronic diarrhea is much lower and the deaths caused by it are isolated cases which usually result from intractable congenital diarrhea.
Symptoms of chronic diarrhea
Among the main symptoms of chronic diarrhea we can distinguish:
The increase in the frequency with which the affected person has to evacuate. As a result, the feces will be less and less consistent;
- Abdominal pain , i.e., cramps;
- Nausea and vomit;
In the event that the diarrhea is very abundant, the body can become dehydrated due to the huge loss of fluids. Dehydration can be recognized by: excessive tiredness, thirst, dry mouth, dry tongue, muscle cramps, dizziness , not very concentrated urine.
Diagnosis for diarrhea
The patient’s history is essential for the initial diagnosis and for the choice of tests to be performed. Therefore, it is important for the patient to indicate the history of food ingestion, as it helps to establish possible relationships between food intake and the onset of diarrhea. In addition, the characteristics of the stool examined can indicate different causes.
During the medical examination, an attempt will be made to understand if there are symptoms of malabsorption and/or malnutrition (weight, height, body mass index, muscle mass ), as well as observing the changes since the beginning of the diarrhea, assessing the state of hydration or skin color.
Complementary tests, on the other hand, vary according to the age of the patient and the diagnosis. First, some basic tests are done to diagnose common causes.
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What are the causes of chronic diarrhea?
The causes that give rise to diarrhea are different, although the most common are the following:
- Contamination due to the presence of bacteria in food or water.
- Parasites present in food and water.
- Certain medications, such as antibiotics, magnesium-containing antacids, or cancer therapies.
- Some foods cause intolerance and sensitivity to certain ingredients or foods, such as lactose.
- Some diseases of the stomach or small intestine or colon cause diarrhea.
- Some colon functioning problems.
Can it be prevented?
In the case of diarrhea of viral origin, it is sufficient to maintain proper hygiene , i.e. washing hands with antibacterial soap and clean water before and after eating.
Instead, in the presence of diarrhea of bacterial or parasitic origin, prevention begins with proper food hygiene and the intake of bottled water.
When diarrhea is associated with food intake, these are cases in which there is an intolerance, which is why it is difficult to prevent. However, there are some measures that can prevent a drug overdose.
There is also the so-called traveler’s diarrhea . The way to prevent it is to avoid ingesting undercooked or raw foods and cold drinks with ice. It is recommended not to consume tap water. The safest dishes are those cooked at high temperatures, dehydrated foods, acidic pH drinks such as lemon, and bread.
Treatments for chronic diarrhea
Treatment of diarrhea will vary according to the cause and its severity. However, it is important to be able to compensate for the loss of fluids and minerals.
The simplest solution is to increase the amount of liquids ingested, with mineral water, infusions, and drinks rich in sodium, chloride or potassium.
In the event that it is intense and strong diarrhea, increasing the amount of water ingested is sufficient to alleviate the problem.
In the event that it is impossible to hold the drink for a long time, it is recommended to take electrolytes and fluids intravenously and consult a doctor.
The use of antidiarrheal drugs does not cure diarrhea, but they can ease the symptoms.
Which specialist to contact?
Since it is a relatively common condition, there are several specialists who can treat and find a solution to the problems of chronic diarrhea. These are specialists in Gastroenterology , Internal Medicine , Family Medicine or General Surgery.
Diarrhea: Medications and Drugs
The use of medications or supplements to treat diarrhea depends on the characteristics of the disease. Often the types of diarrhea that require medical treatment are those associated with an intestinal infection caused by bacteria or parasites.
In these cases there are several drugs and supplements useful to counteract the problem :
- specific antibiotics to fight the bacterial infection
- vegetable charcoal to favor the absorption of excess liquids
- antiprotozoal to fight protozoal infections
- lactic ferments and probiotics to replenish the intestinal bacterial flora
- spasmolytics to reduce spasms
- It is important that the intake of medicines and supplements is always evaluated in advance by the specialist or by one’s own doctor.
Diarrhea: remedies and medical therapies
The remedies and medical therapies for the treatment of diarrhea are usually aimed at treating the underlying disease and are therefore very different from each other.
Chronic diarrhea can in fact be caused by inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, tumors, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome or other diseases that require specific treatment. A doctor’s evaluation is therefore necessary before undertaking any therapy.