Although a sometimes uncomfortable topic, diarrhea happens to everyone. On average, American adults experience diarrhea at least once a year, double that for children.
Regardless of what causes diarrhea, the experience is always unpleasant, but usually passes quickly and, with proper hydration, we are feeling good as new in no time.
Diarrhea is generally described as an increase in frequency and/or looseness of bowel movements. It can also be broken down into two broad categories: acute or chronic.
Acute diarrhea can be brought on by a number of causes. This type of diarrhea generally passes within a few days, even as quickly as a few hours, and rarely requires medical attention. Here are a few causes of acute diarrhea that you should be aware of.
Stress or Travel
Diarrhea is caused by increased fluid secretion into the intestine mixed with reduced absorption, which causes a rapid rushing of matter through your bowels. Stress can affect your body in many ways inducing diarrhea, especially when you aren’t taking care of your health.
Travel can be another cause. Not only is travel stressful in and of itself, but our bodies are introduced to new foods and different health regulations that we may not be used to.
When traveling, avoid tap water and unwashed produce. Make sure you know where your water and meals come from and that they are cooked thoroughly.
Often caused by improperly cooked or expired foods, this is a rare cause of diarrhea in the United States.
Raw meats, eggs, shellfish and unpasteurized milk can all be culprits of urgent bowel movements, but as long as you make sure your food is cooked thoroughly, hands and food are washed properly, and food well-beyond its expiration date is thrown out, you should be able to avoid bacteria-induced diarrhea with ease.
The biggest proponent of virally caused diarrhea is not washing one’s hands. Although unwashed utensils, sharing drinking glasses and utensils, and not properly preparing foods are all causes of diarrhea, infrequent handwashing is the biggest cause of this type of diarrhea.
Make sure to always wash your hands, especially after using the restroom or before handling food, and encourage others to do the same. Use caution in public places and be discerning about the cleanliness of eating establishments.
If your diarrhea lasts more than a couple days, you may be suffering from chronic diarrhea. Just like acute diarrhea, chronic, runny bowel movements have many causes, but, unlike acute, it could indicate more extreme health concerns.
Some medications can lead to chronic diarrhea. Antibiotics can inadvertently kill good bacteria that protect your intestines, causing overactive bowels. Other common medications, such as blood pressure drugs, can have diarrhea as a side effect. Hopefully, a simple change in medication can reduce, if not eliminate, your frequent diarrhea.
Lactose intolerance may be the most well-known example of how a food allergy can cause diarrhea. If the body has trouble digesting certain foods, often dairy products or artificial sweeteners, the undigested remnants can cause nausea, diarrhea, cramping and gas within 30 minutes to two hours of eating the disagreeable food.
An Underlying Condition
Sometimes, diarrhea is an indicator of a more severe condition. Irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and diabetes can all have chronic diarrhea as a symptom.
If you experience chronic diarrhea, consult a doctor immediately.
Some Ways to Cope With Diarrhea
If you experience acute diarrhea, there are a few things you can do to feel a little better while your bowels get back to normal. If your diarrhea persists for more than two days, talk to your doctor.
Rehydrate – Because fluids are improperly flooding your intestines during diarrhea, your body quickly becomes dehydrated. Water is important, but it doesn’t replace necessary electrolytes. Instead of sports drinks, reach for soup with sodium or fruit drinks to replenish your body.
Bland Foods – If food was the cause of your diarrhea, you don’t want to make it worse with foods that are difficult on your bowels. Reach for yogurt and complex carbohydrates such as rice or bread to recover.
Avoid Food Triggers – While your digestive system gets back to normal, avoid foods that tend to wreak havoc on your intestines, such as coffee or processed sugar. Spicy foods, dairy and gas-inducing foods like beans should also be avoided.
Wash Hands – If you have diarrhea, wash your hands more than normal. You don’t want to spread the cause of diarrhea to those around you. Do long, thorough washes with hot water and soap every time you use the bathroom and especially before handling food.