What is diarrhea?

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Diarrhea involves passing loose or frequent stools than normal. This condition affects many individuals from time to time and not an issue to worry about. Nevertheless, diarrhea can be upsetting and unpleasant until it subsides which generally lasts for a few days up to a week.

Causes of diarrhea

There are various causes of diarrhea but a bowel infection or gastroenteritis is the usual cause in both children and adults. Take note that gastroenteritis can be caused by the following:

  • Viruses such as rotavirus or norovirus
  • Bacteria such as Escherichia coli and campylobacter which are often acquired from contaminated food
  • Parasites such as those that cause giardiasis that spreads via contaminated water

It is important to note that these infections can be acquired while travelling abroad especially to areas with poor standards in public hygiene. In some cases, diarrhea can be due to anxiety, side effect of medications, food allergy or irritable bowel syndrome which is a long-term condition.

It is vital to stay at home at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhea in order to prevent the spread of infection.

How to manage diarrhea

In most cases of diarrhea, they subside after a few days without any form of treatment and there is no need to consult a doctor. On the other hand, diarrhea has the potential to cause dehydration, thus it is vital to drink plenty of fluids until it passes. It is vital that infants and small children do not end up dehydrated.

An oral rehydration solution is recommended if there is the risk for dehydration. Solid food should be eaten as soon as the individual is able to. If currently breastfeeding or bottle feeding an infant with diarrhea, it is best to feed them as normal.

It is vital to stay at home at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhea in order to prevent the spread of infection. There are also medications that reduce the episodes such as loperamide. Nevertheless, they are not needed and most types should not be given to children.

When to consult a doctor

A doctor should be consulted for advice if the individual is concerned about the symptoms. It is best to set an appointment with a doctor if the diarrhea is severe or frequent or linked with other symptoms such as the following:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Blood in the stool
  • Weight loss
  • Severe or persistent abdominal pain
  • Indications of dehydration such as infrequent passing of urine, drowsiness and dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Black or dark-colored stools which indicates bleeding inside the stomach

A child with persistent diarrhea should be assessed by a doctor since this can indicate a serious health condition. In most cases, diarrhea typically passes within a week.


Diarrhea is often triggered by an infection. The risk can be reduced by ensuring that high standards of hygiene are observed such as the following:

  • Always wash hands thoroughly using warm water and soap after using the toilet and before prepared food or eating.
  • Clean the toilet including the seat and handle using a disinfectant after every episode of diarrhea
  • Avoid sharing of utensils, towels or cutlery with other family members

It is vital to observe proper food and water hygiene when abroad such as avoiding possibly insecure tap water as well as foods that are undercooked.

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