Diarrhoea occurs when there is an increase in stool frequency, or when there is a sudden onset of watery stools. Diarrhoea is usually caused by an infection of the gastrointestinal tract and is normally transient and self-resolving. However, diarrhoea can also be severe and cause dehydration. In this article, we discuss the common and uncommon causes of diarrhoea, and simple treatment methods to stop diarrhoea. Find your doctor if the symptoms are severe.
Causes of diarrhoea
As mentioned above, the most common cause of diarrhoea is an infection in the gut. Rotavirus is a known organism that causes diarrhoea, transmitted via the faecal oral route. Food that is not prepared properly can also cause loose stools as it introduces organisms such as clostridium, salmonella, E.coli, and campylobacter bacteria to the gut.
Other than infection, a change in dietary habits or certain foods and medications can also cause diarrhoea.Some sweetened foods contain mannitol, which is an artificial sweetener. This can lead to diarrhoea due to its high sugar content, which can draw water out from the gut and cause diarrhoea. Medications like antibiotics are commonly known to have the side effects of diarrhoea.
Some people have diarrhoea due to an underlying condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, or diverticulitis. Treatment for these conditions will differ based on the diagnosis. Food avoidance measures might have to be taken.
Another insidious cause of diarrhoea is constipation. As an impacted stool causes obstruction in the bowels, softer stools might overflow and cause overflow diarrhoea. This cause of diarrhoea is common in children.
Ways to stop diarrhoea
If diarrhoea is caused by a simple gut infection, medications are not recommended to stop diarrhoea. This is because passing loose stools is the body’s way of clearing the infection, and taking antidiarrheal medications might cause the delay of this process. However, there are a few supportive treatment to speed up the recovery, including:
- Adequate rest
- Taking more fluids to prevent dehydration
- Avoid sugary drinks, alcohol and caffeine
- Encourage small, frequent feeds and soft bland diet
Adequate hydration is crucial in the treatment of diarrhoea. When severe diarrhoea causes dehydration, one might feel tired, thirsty, have reduced urination frequency, and have a dry mouth. If dehydration is not addressed or treated, it might lead to electrolyte imbalance, which is dangerous. Therefore, if one feels that the diarrhoea is leading to dehydration, seek treatment from your healthcare provider immediately.
In cases where diarrhoea causes inconvenience, certain medications may help to reduce the symptoms temporarily. Loperamide and Diphenoxylate work by decreasing the movements of the gut, thus relieving diarrhoea. They belong to a group of medications called antimotility agents. However, as mentioned above, they are not recommended in children, or in cases where there is a severe infection.
Some people also find that intestinal adsorbents may help with relieving diarrhoea. They are substances such as activated charcoal and pectin. They absorb the harmful substances released by the infectious organism and aid in its excretion. The efficacy of this treatment method is not well established, and it is best to seek advice from your doctor before taking any of these medications.
Travellers’ diarrhoea (TD) is an infection acquired during travel, usually due to consumption of contaminated water or food that is not hygienic. Diarrhoea during a trip can be distressing, and many healthcare providers recommend a short course of antibiotics that may help stop the symptoms. The antibiotics include Azithromycin, Ciprofloxacin, and Levofloxacin, taken over the course of three days. These medications require a prescription, so it is recommended to visit your healthcare provider prior to a trip to get these medications.
Diarrhoea is extremely common in our daily lives, and it is normally a transient, self-resolving condition. Hydration is crucial, while antidiarrheal medications should only be taken after consulting a healthcare provider.