Diarrhoea is a common condition everyone gets every once in a while. It is characterised by loose, watery stools occurring more frequently than your usual daily bowel movement.
If you’ve done anything out of your usual activities that may have exposed you to bacteria—like travelling, hiking or swimming in streams—it could be the likely cause of the infection triggering your diarrhoea. Additionally, a new medication or food your stomach is unfamiliar with may have contributed to your loose bowel movement.
Acute diarrhoea caused by bacterial, viral or parasitic infection normally goes away in a couple of days or after a dose of over-the-counter loperamide. It shouldn’t be a cause for concern once you’ve rehydrated and replaced all the fluid your body lost. Stock up on electrolyte drinks and oral rehydration salt (ORS) solutions to help keep your body’s electrolytes at a healthy level.
On the other hand, chronic diarrhoea lasts longer and could be a manifestation of more serious illnesses like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), pancreatitis or colon cancer. It is usually accompanied by any of the following symptoms for which you need to see a doctor about your diarrhoea.
1. Worsening or no improvement after two days
Persistent diarrhoea may be a sign that you have a lingering infection caused by bacteria or parasites. This may be treated with antibiotics upon the prescription of a doctor.
2. Severe dehydration
Diarrhoea makes you dehydrated because of the amount of liquid you’re passing along with your stool. If you experience vomiting along with your diarrhoea, it may be a sign of food poisoning and could cause a more serious case of dehydration. Severe dehydration is critical because of the loss of electrolytes (the electrically charged particles in your body) that facilitate many physiological functions.
If you notice that you are excessively thirsty, your skin and mouth are dry, you urinate less and your urine is of a dark yellow colour, or you feel weak, dizzy and lightheaded, ask to be brought to the emergency room immediately. You may require special attention and IV therapy to replace the fluids you’ve lost.
3. Mouth sores
Chronic diarrhoea that comes with mouth sores could be pointing to a more serious health issue like Crohn’s disease or coeliac disease. Crohn’s disease involves inflammation resulting in sores in the tissues of your gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. Similarly, coeliac disease triggers an immune response against gluten in the small intestines of individuals who are sensitive to gluten, that affects tissues of the mouth.
It’s best to see a doctor to rule out other possible illnesses and receive proper treatment.
4. Abdominal cramps or rectal pain
If you’re experiencing severe pain in your stomach or rectum along with loose bowel movement, there’s a chance that it could be more than just diarrhoea. Chronic disorders such as IBS, ulcerative colitis and appendicitis share these same symptoms and paying a visit to your doctor may be the best way to find out what is plaguing your body.
5. Bloody or black stool
Blood in your stool could be a sign of haemorrhoids (swollen veins in the walls of your rectum and anus) or other more critical illnesses such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis as these conditions prompt your immune system to attack your GI tissues causing them to bleed.
It is advisable to undergo a physical examination in order to determine the cause of bleeding.
6. Pus in stool
Seeing pus in your stool is equally alarming. If you notice a yellow, mucus-like substance in your stool, you better get yourself checked. When your body produces pus, it is likely the effect of your immune system when it is fighting off an infection. Pus can also be an indication of chronic diseases like ulcerative colitis that causes inflammation in your GI tract.
7. Fever of more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
Fever is another sign of infection in your body that you can help subside simply by taking an over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen while carefully following the instructions on the label. If the fever persists, it could be a symptom of more life-threatening conditions including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Either way, a visit to the doctor will shed more light on what is causing your fever.
8. Weight loss
Losing a significant amount of weight in just a few days due to obstinate diarrhoea is indeed a cause for alarm. Your drastic weight loss may be indicative of a serious gastrointestinal disease that causes malabsorption or your body’s inability to absorb nutrients from the food you eat.
Consult a qualified medical professional who can help you correct the disorder causing your weight loss and prevent other health complications.
Doctor’s Diagnosis and Directive
It’s time to see a doctor if you’ve been experiencing severe diarrhoea in conjunction with any of the above-mentioned symptoms for more than 24 hours. Your doctor’s appointment will more or less involve a full medical history, physical tests including a physician feeling your abdomen and conducting a rectal examination.
Other procedures your doctor might require would be:
- a blood test that would reveal signs of infection and other health problems that might be causing your diarrhoea;
- a stool test in order to determine if the presence of bacteria or parasites in your stool sample are the culprit of your diarrhoea;
- a hydrogen breath test that measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath as high levels of this gas is indicative of lactose intolerance;
- a fasting test to rule out food intolerance or allergy as the thing responsible for your loose bowel movement;
- a colonoscopy (examination of the entire colon using a lighted tube with a camera) or sigmoidoscopy (a similar procedure involving only the lower part of the colon) for visual analysis of your large intestine.
Your doctor’s diagnosis will be based on the results of these tests. Depending on the findings, you will be prescribed medication or advised accordingly regarding the next steps to take.
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