Diarrhea: symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is when you have loose and watery bowel movements. It is a common disorder that makes you go to the bathroom more often. It is associated with a loss of water and electrolytes (such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium among others) from your body. Fortunately, diarrhea is not usually serious. It is just unpleasant.

What causes diarrhea?

Normally the causes of diarrhea are not identified. However, the most common ones include

  • viruses (e.g., rotavirus)
  • bacteria (e.g., E. coli and salmonella)
  • food intolerance (e.g., lactose)
  • food allergies

When going abroad many people get the so-called traveler’s diarrhea because of having consumed contaminated food or water.

What are the symptoms of diarrhea?

The hallmark symptoms of diarrhea may differ from one person to another, but they may include

  • loose stools
  • cramps
  • bellyache
  • incontinence
  • fever
  • nausea
  • bloody stools

How is diarrhea treated?

Most of the time, diarrhea goes away by itself in two- or three-days’ time.

In adults, it can be treated at home by using an over-the-counter product and feeling better soon. And if you are not keen on having medicine, diarrhea can often be taken care of without any medication. What can you do then?

  • Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water, juices, and broth
  • Change your diet by avoiding
    • fats
    • fibre
    • sweets
    • caffeine

and have instead

  • applesauce
    • bananas
    • white bread
    • white rice
    • potatoes
    • fish
    • skinless poultry
    • yoghurt

If your diarrhea lasts more than a few days, you have dehydration, bleeding, fever o vomiting, you may have a more serious health problem and you should visit your doctor then.

In children, it is always better to call your child’s healthcare provider right away in all cases.

Can diarrhea be prevented?

The diarrhea caused by viruses and the traveler’s diarrhea can be both prevented. Therefore, it is highly recommended to be careful:

  • Wash your hands well and often.
  • Only consume safely cleaned and cooked food.
  • When being abroad, do not drink tap water nor eat fresh or raw food.
  • Do not eat food from street vendors.


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