What is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is characterized by unusually loose, large volume or liquidy stools. People with diarrhea often have frequent bowel movements, occurring more than three times in one day. However, whether or not you have diarrhea is influenced by your normal, baseline bowel habits.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
Diarrhea is often accompanied by an upset stomach and/or the following symptoms:
- abdominal cramping and/or bloating
- discomfort around the anus
- an urgent need to have a bowel movement
Causes of Diarrhea
In many cases, no cause for diarrhea can be found and often symptoms will pass with no treatment needed. However, the following are common causes for the condition:
- infection with bacteria, viruses, or parasites
- food intolerance
- use of certain medications (such as antibiotics)
- diseases that affect sphincter function
- diseases that affect the digestive system (such as Crohn's disease) or irritable bowel syndrome
When to See a Doctor
Diarrhea is usually not harmful, and often subsides within a few days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may signal a serious health problem. Therefore, it's important to consult your physician if your diarrhea lasts longer than three days, or if you also experience any of the following:
- signs of dehydration (such as intense thirst, fatigue, dizziness, and dark-colored urine)
- severe pain in your abdomen or rectum
- fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- stools that are blood or black and tarry
In many cases, treatment of diarrhea should focus on replacing lost fluids and salts (by consuming broth, soup, fruit juices, and soft fruits and vegetables, for instance). Avoiding certain foods (such as dairy products, high-fat foods, high-fiber foods, and sugary foods) can also help ease your symptoms.
Natural Remedies for Diarrhea
The following natural substances may help ease some of the symptoms associated with diarrhea.
Common antibiotic medications are known to wipe out beneficial bacteria (called probiotics) that contribute to a healthy digestive system. In some cases, this disruption in the natural balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria may result in diarrhea. Found in certain foods (such as yogurt and kefir), probiotics are also available in supplement form.
In a 2006 meta-analysis of 31 studies (including a total of 3,164 patients), researchers concluded that use of three types of (Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, and probiotic mixtures) significantly reduced the development of antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
In a 2009 study, chamomile was found to inhibit the growth of a species of bacteria called Campylobacter jejuni (one of the most common causes of enteric infections resulting in severe diarrhea). Available in tea form, chamomile is also thought to help relieve abdominal cramping and alleviate inflammation associated with diarrhea.
Said to soothe irritation in the intestines, carob may be especially beneficial for children with diarrhea. Carob is sold in powder form at most health-food stores.
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