Diarrhoea

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What is Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is an intestinal disorder characterized by the abnormal passage of 3 or more loose or liquid stools per day, or more frequently than is normal for the individual. However, it is the consistency of the stools rather than the number that is most important. Frequent passing of formed stools is not diarrhea, for instance babies fed only breastmilk often pass loose, "pasty" stools and this also is not diarrhoea. It is very common condition and usually not serious. Many people will have diarrhoea once or twice each year and, typically, lasts two to three days and can be treated with over-the-counter medicines. Diarrhoea may present in different forms such as acute watery diarrhoea, dysentery (blood in stool), or persistent diarrhoea (more than 14 days).

It is usually a symptom of gastrointestinal infection, which can be caused by a range of bacterial, viral or parasitic organisms. Infection is spread through contaminated food or drinking-water. It could also appear in contact “person to person” as a result of poor hygiene. Others have diarrhea often as part of irritable bowel syndrome or other chronic diseases of the large intestine.

Diarrhoea is classified as "osmotic," "secretory," or "exudative."
    Osmotic diarrhoea happens when something in the bowel is drawing water from the body into the bowel. For example,"dietetic candy" or "chewing gum" in which a sugar substitute, is not absorbed by the body but draws water from the body into the bowel, resulting in diarrhea.
    Secretory diarrhoea occurs when the body is releasing water into the bowel when it's not supposed to. It is cased by many infections, drugs, and other conditions.
    Exudative diarrhoea refers to the presence of pus and blood in the stool. This appears with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease and several infections.

During diarrhoea, the body loses water and electrolytes in the form of liquid stool. Fluids can also be lost through vomit, sweat, urine and breathing. Dehydration occurs when these losses are not sufficiently replaced. Diarrhoea may result in a decrease in food intake or nutrient absorption and an increase in nutrient requirements which often combine to cause weight loss and retarded growth. Severe diarrhoea leads to fluid loss, and may be life-threatening, particularly in young children and people who are malnourished or have impaired immunity. Diarrhoea is also a major cause of child malnutrition.

What Causes Diarrhoea?

The main causes of diarrhoea are poor hygiene, lack of clean drinking water, overcrowding, and the trend towards bottle-feeding in infants.
Diarrhoea can be prevented by breastfeeding, by immunizing all children against measles, by keeping food and water clean, and by washing hands before touching food.

The most common source of diarrhea is a virus that infects the gut. The infection is usually called "intestinal flu" or "stomach flu."
Diarrhea may also be caused by:
- Infection by bacteria, viruses or by other organisms
- Eating foods irritating for the digestive system
- Allergies to certain foods
- Medications
- Radiation therapy
- Diseases of the intestines (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis)
- Malabsorption (the body is unable to absorb certain nutrients from the diet)
- Hyperthyroidism
- Some cancers
- Laxative abuse
- Alcohol abuse
- Digestive tract surgery
- Diabetes
- Competitive running

What Are the Symptoms of Diarrhoea?

There are two types of symptoms.
Symptoms of uncomplicated diarrhoea include:
- Abdominal swelling or cramps
- Thin or loose stools
- Watery stools
- Feeling of bowel movement
- Nausea and vomiting
The symptoms of complicated diarrhea include:
- Blood, mucus, or undigested food in the stool
- Weight loss
- Fever
Complicated diarrhoea may be a sign of a more serious illness. Contact your doctor if you have prolonged diarrhoea or a fever that lasts more than 24 hours.
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