By Gastroenterology Associates of S.W. Florida, P.A. –
Acute diarrhea is an increase in volume and frequency of stool with decreased consistency and lasts up to 2 weeks. Acute diarrhea is an epidemic still responsible for approximately 2 million deaths annually around the globe. Most deaths occur in developing countries. Approximately 6000 deaths occur a year in the USA as a result of acute diarrhea. It is second only to respiratory infections for time lost from work in the United States (Thielman 2004).
Acute diarrhea is most often caused by gastrointestinal infections. Other causes of acute diarrhea include medicines and foods. Viruses, bacteria and parasites can all cause gastrointestinal infections. Laxatives, anti-biotics, antacids, anti-inflammatories, and some supplements are all medications that can cause diarrhea. Sorbitol, an artificial sweetener used in some diet sodas, flavored water, chewing gum and candies also causes diarrhea.
People with lactose intolerance or fructose intolerance can experience diarrhea, usually associated with abdominal cramping, when consuming foods with lactose or fructose.
Most bouts of acute diarrhea are self-limiting and will resolve spontaneously. When acute diarrhea begins it is good to let the bowels rest. This can be done with a clear liquid diet (Jello, Gatorade, Popsicles, Broth, etc) followed by a low-residue diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast). The best treatment for diarrhea is oral rehydration. If one loses more fluids in their bowel movements then are consumed dehydration will set in. It is best to rehydrate with juices or Gatorade rather than water alone. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, dizziness and weakness. If one becomes dehydrated they should seek medical attention.
Medical attention should also be sought if the following symptoms are present: fever, chills, bloody diarrhea or diarrhea lasting longer than 2 weeks. Diarrhea caused by a bacteria or parasitic infection may require antibiotics. Other diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s, Ulcerative colitis), Malabsorbtion (Celiac disease), or other conditions may be present which will need further workup. If you are suffering with reoccurring diarrhea the underlying cause may be curable. Don’t waste any more time flushing your day down the toilette, speak to a gastroenterologist today and be diarrhea free tomorrow.
Source: Thielman NM, Guerrant RL. Clinical practice. Acute infectious diarrhea. N Engl J Med. 2004;350:38-47. [PMID: 14702526]