Most people have experienced the loose, watery bowel movements of diarrhea at some time in their lives. This common problem is one that usually resolves on its own after a few days. The condition could signal something more serious that requires urgent care if it lasts longer than a week or two.
Prolonged bouts of diarrhea can be caused by irritable bowel syndrome. Persistent infection or inflammatory bowel disease will also cause the condition to last for weeks.
Diarrhea can lead to dehydration; this is particularly true with young children and the elderly. When diarrhea lasts longer than a few days, and if it is accompanied by a fever of 102 F (39 C) or above, you need to see a doctor. Black or bloody stools and severe abdominal or rectal pain are also symptoms that need a doctor’s care. Young children should be seen if diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours with no improvement.
Your doctor will give you an examination and check your medical history and the medications and supplements you take. Certain tests may be ordered to determine the source of your diarrhea. Blood tests help determine the cause of the condition and testing the stool can identify any bacterium or parasite that may be causing the problem. In some cases, a colonoscopy may be ordered to check the colon.
If an infection or parasite is causing the problem, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. If a virus causes it, antibiotics will not help. Because dehydration can be a problem, your doctor will advise you to replace fluids and salts. Young children may drink Pedialyte to replace fluids and prevent dehydration. Older children and adults can drink plenty of water, juice or broth. IV fluids may need to be given if vomiting is a concern.
Causes of Diarrhea
Several things can cause diarrhea. Travelers can experience the condition by drinking contaminated water or eating food that has been rinsed with contaminated water. Certain medications, including some antibiotics, can cause diarrhea.
People who use artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol or mannitol may experience loose stools. Fructose is a sugar that naturally occurs in fruit and honey. Lactose is a sugar present in milk and dairy products. Both of these sugars can cause diarrhea in people who have difficulty digesting them. People with lactose intolerance may find their intolerance increasing with age. After childhood, the level of the enzyme that aids in the digestion of lactose decreases.
Dr. Michael can help you identify the cause of prolonged bouts of diarrhea. If your condition is ongoing, contact our office to schedule an examination.