What is Diarrhoea?

    Diarrhoea, characterized by loose or watery stool, is a joint discomfort that often evokes discomfort upon hearing. The sight of thin, sickly-looking faeces in the toilet bowl can be unsettling for most people. Dealing with diarrhoea adds stress as its cause and duration may be uncertain. Fortunately, diarrhoea is mild in many cases, involving only a few bathroom trips per day, and typically resolves within a few days.

    However, diarrhoea can sometimes indicate a more serious underlying condition. It may lead to dehydration due to excessive fluid loss or hinder nutrient absorption. Recognizing warning signs is crucial to determine when to seek medical attention for diarrhoea and when to wait it out.

What are the types of diarrhoea?

    Diarrhoea is categorized based on its duration:

    1. Acute diarrhoea: This type is characterized by loose, watery stool lasting one to two days. It's the most prevalent form and typically resolves without treatment.

    2. Persistent diarrhoea: Persistent diarrhoea persists for about two to four weeks.

    3. Chronic diarrhoea: Lasting more than four weeks or occurring intermittently over an extended period, chronic diarrhoea may signal a more serious underlying condition, necessitating consultation with a healthcare provider.

What are the causes of diarrhoea?

    Diarrhoea can stem from various causes, including:

    1. Bacterial infection

    2. Viral infection

    3. Difficulty digesting certain foods (food intolerance)

    4. Food allergy (e.g., celiac disease, gluten allergy)

    5. Parasitic infections transmitted through contaminated food or water

    6. Adverse reaction to medications

    7. Intestinal disorders like inflammatory bowel disease

    8. Functional bowel disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome

    9. Surgical procedures involving the stomach or gallbladder

    10. Recent antibiotic therapy

    11. Metabolic conditions like thyroid disorders

    12. Less common factors like damage from radiation therapy or tumours producing excess hormones

    Traveller's diarrhoea is common when consuming unsafe food or water contaminated with bacteria, parasites, or toxins.

    Persistent or severe diarrhoea may signify an underlying serious condition. It's advisable to seek medical attention if symptoms persist or interfere with daily activities, as determining the underlying cause of diarrhoea can sometimes be challenging.

What are the symptoms of diarrhoea?

    Diarrhoea typically involves loose or watery stools, often accompanied by additional symptoms such as:

  • Stomach pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Chills

    Moreover, diarrhoea can serve as a symptom of various underlying conditions, some of which may be severe. Additional concerning symptoms to watch for include:

  • The presence of blood or pus in the stool
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Signs of dehydration

    The presence of these symptoms alongside diarrhoea, especially if it persists over time, could signify a more serious underlying illness and should prompt medical attention.

What are the complications of diarrhoea?

    Diarrhoea poses a risk of dehydration, especially if left untreated, which can be life-threatening, particularly in vulnerable populations such as children, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems.

    If you observe signs of severe dehydration, it's crucial to seek immediate medical assistance.

    Symptoms of dehydration in adults may include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth or skin
  • Reduced or absent urination
  • Weakness, dizziness, or light-headedness
  • Fatigue
  • Dark-coloured urine

When to see the doctor

    If you're an adult, it's advisable to consult your doctor if:

  • Your diarrhoea persists for more than two days without improvement.
  • You experience dehydration symptoms.
  • Severe abdominal or rectal pain occurs.
  • You notice bloody or black stools.
  • You develop a fever exceeding 102 F (39 C).

    In children, especially young ones, diarrhoea can rapidly result in dehydration. Contact your doctor if your child's diarrhoea doesn't improve within 24 hours or if your child:

  • Shows signs of dehydration.
  • Develops a fever above 102 F (39 C).
  • Passes bloody or black stools.

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