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Symptoms of Diarrhea, Causes and Diarrhea Treatment

Diarrhea is an increase in the frequency of bowel movements or a decrease in the form of stool (greater looseness of stool). Although changes in frequency of bowel movements and looseness of stools can vary independently of each other, changes usually occur in both.

Symptoms

Diarrhea is a common problem. It refers to excessive and frequent passing loose or watery stools. It may indicate gastrointestinal disease. Accompanying symptoms may include:

* abdominal pain and cramping,
* change in stool color, or
* mucous, pus, blood or fat in the stool.

Diarrhea can be triggered by many different conditions. Acute diarrhea is often caused by an infection and may require medical management. The primary role of nutrition in acute diarrhea is to prevent depletion of fluid, sodium, potassium, and calories. Replenishment of all four has been achieved with "rehydration solutions" and with a variety of foods, from salted carrot soup to peeled scraped apple to rice gruel. However, diarrhea severe enough to necessitate the use of rehydration solutions requires direct medical supervision. Therefore, nutritional approaches to overcoming depletion of fluid, sodium, potassium, and calories are not discussed here, but rather should be discussed with a doctor. Diarrhea-induced low blood sugar, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalance can be serious or even life-threatening, particularly if prolonged in children.

Causes

Several agents can cause diarrhea, including viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections resulting from consuming contaminated food or water. You can also pick up an infectious agent through personal contact with an infected person. Common bacterial causes of infection include Salmonella species, Shigella species, Escherichia coli, and Campylobacter jejuni. Because only a few bacteria are needed to cause Shigella infections, they spread easily in day care centers, institutions, and families. E. coli bacteria can cause diarrhea by attacking the intestinal wall or by producing toxins that block the ability of the intestine to absorb water and electrolytes. Some of the toxins produced by bacteria may even make the intestine secrete water and electrolytes instead of absorbing them. A serious form of E. coli has caused recent nation-wide food outbreaks, leading to several deaths.

Treatment

In most cases, diarrhea resolves itself after two or three days, and almost always within one to two weeks. Usually, the only treatment necessary is preventing dehydration, which can be done by drinking replacement fluids and an electrolyte mixture. Adequate levels of minerals such as sodium, magnesium, calcium and especially potassium are essential in maintaining the electrical pacing of your heartbeat. Disruption of your body's levels of fluids and minerals creates a serious electrolyte imbalance.

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