Diarrhea is one of the most common health issues experienced by children and adults the world over. A typical bout of diarrhea lasts a few days and should clear on its own without special medication.
However, when your diarrhea lasts more than a few days or worsens through its course, it’s essential to seek urgent treatment to avoid serious consequences.
Prolonged diarrhea can lead to electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and even kidney diseases. This is because when you have diarrhea, you lose water and electrolytes along with loose stools.
What Causes Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is runny poop that keeps you going to the bathroom urgently and regularly, typically more than thrice a day. You might also have an upset stomach or get belly cramps.
There are three main types of diarrhea:
- Short-term or acute diarrhea: This type of diarrhea is not a cause for major concern and goes away independently.
- Persistent diarrhea: This type lasts a little longer but eventually ends after a few weeks.
- Chronic diarrhea: Ongoing diarrhea comes and goes, but the symptoms last over a month.
Common causes of diarrhea include:
- Side effects of medication like antibiotics.
- Infection from bacteria, parasites, or viruses.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS.)
- Allergies or sensitivities to certain foods.
- Celiac disease.
- Immune deficiencies.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (including Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.)
- Digestive disorders.
- Other medical conditions such as cholera (especially in developing countries.)
While these are some of the leading causes of diarrhea, there are many more possible causes. Sometimes you might also get idiopathic diarrhea (diarrhea without a known cause.)
How Is Diarrhea Diagnosed?
Diarrhea is often self-diagnosed. In most cases, it gets better with over-the-counter medicines or a dietary change. However, if you experience the following symptoms, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider:
- High body temperature.
- Diarrhea symptoms for more than 24 hours for children and two days for adults.
- Severe pain in the rectum or abdomen.
- Tarry or black bowel movements.
- Stool containing blood or pus.
A healthcare provider will diagnose severe diarrhea through one of the following tests:
- Stool test: The doctor might recommend a stool test to see if bacteria or parasites are causing your diarrhea.
- Blood test: A complete blood test, kidney function test, and measurement of electrolytes can reveal the severity of your diarrhea.
- Hydrogen breath test: This test measures your lactose intolerance levels. It’s possible to get diarrhea if you consume milk products while you’re lactose intolerant.
- Upper endoscopy: The doctor might use a small thin tube with a camera to observe your small intestine. They may also cut a small sample for lab analysis (biopsy.)
- Colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy: Just like in upper endoscopy, doctors will use a thin tube with a camera to observe your colon. The tube is also equipped with a tool to cut a biopsy sample.
They will also enquire about your medical history to determine if pre-existing health problems like inflammatory bowel disease are causing diarrhea.
Treatment for Diarrhea
There’s no default way of treating diarrhea as the best treatment options depend on the cause and severity of the condition. Therefore, in addition to the tests above, the doctor might want to know if you have a fever, if certain foods make the diarrhea worse or if you’re taking antibiotics. This information will allow them to recommend the right anti-diarrheal medicines.
Treating Acute Diarrhea in Adults
Most of the time, you can treat acute diarrhea with over-the-counter medication like bismuth subsalicylate and loperamide. The former balances how fluid flows within your digestive system while the latter slows the movement of food through your digestive tract, allowing your body to absorb more water.
However, doctors do not recommend using these drugs if you have a fever or bloody stool (signs of parasitic or bacterial infection.) In these cases, it’s always important to see a healthcare provider.
When you have acute diarrhea, you might lose your appetite for a short while. No need to worry, though. It will return in time, and you can return to your regular diet. At the same time, you should drink liquids to recover the lost fluids.
Treating Acute Diarrhea in Children
Over-the-counter medicines to treat diarrhea in adults can be dangerous when used by infants. It’s vital to call your doctor before giving your baby any over-the-counter medications. You should also constantly feed them with breast milk or an oral rehydration solution to ensure they stay hydrated.
If your toddler or young child continues to have diarrhea for more than 24 hours, see a health professional immediately. This is because a child’s body loses water faster than an adult, putting them at greater risk of dehydration.
Severe diarrhea in young children might also be a sign of serious conditions like Reye syndrome, which can be deadly if not diagnosed early enough.
Treating Persistent and Chronic Diarrhea
Doctors can use different methods to treat persistent diarrhea, depending on the cause. Here are some of the most common ways:
Antibiotics and Anti-Parasitics
If the tests reveal that your diarrhea is caused by bacteria or parasites, anti-diarrheal medicines might do little to help. Instead, doctors might prescribe antibiotics or anti-parasitic medicine to treat diarrhea.
Medication for Specific Diseases
If the diarrhea results from pre-existing medical conditions like IBS or IBD, doctors will focus on treating the disease. Essentially, once the cause is established, diarrhea is easier to control.
Probiotics are a group of good bacteria that is sometimes used to establish a healthy biome to fight diarrhea. That said, you should consult a doctor before trying a probiotic or any other kind of supplement.
Compound medications are great alternatives to over-the-counter medicine in treating diarrhea. This custom treatment method allows you to get an individualized prescription based on your unique circumstances.
For instance, if your diarrhea results from an allergic reaction to certain medicine, compound medication can customize the pills for you and eliminate the compounds that don’t sit right with your stomach.
This medication is also beneficial to people with idiopathic diarrhea because it can be designed to treat different body mechanisms instead of focusing on one probable cause of diarrhea.
How Should You Take Over-The-Counter Medicines for Diarrhea?
While over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines are primarily self-prescribed, it’s essential to follow the instructions on the packaging.
The rules for using anti-diarrheal medicine for adults are different for infants and even older children. Therefore, always contact a health professional before giving your child medicine for diarrhea.
Can You Manage Diarrhea Without Taking Medication?
It’s possible to manage acute diarrhea without taking over-the-counter medicines. Here are some of the things you can do to feel better quickly:
- Drink liquids to replace lost fluids. You should stick to electrolyte balanced fluids like apple juice, sports drinks, and broths.
- Avoid foods that may worsen the condition and stick to the brat diet, which consists of bananas, white rice, applesauce, and toast.
- Avoid dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant.
- Avoid caffeine as foods and drinks rich in caffeine have a mixed laxative effect.
You should also wash your hands with soap and water to prevent diarrhea caused by bacteria or parasites.
Can’t Find the Right Anti-diarrheal Medicine? Try Fort Worth Pharmacy
Digestive health is an integral part of general wellbeing. It’s therefore essential to find the right medicine when you have loose bowel movements.
Fort Worth pharmacy offers you a wide variety of treatments regardless of whether the condition is acute or chronic. Our treatments are individualized and will consider any other health conditions you might have.
Contact us today to talk to a professional pharmacist and learn how compound medication can help you recover from diarrhea.