One of the most unpleasant conditions to deal with is diarrhoea. Diarrhoea is when stools become looser and more frequent, usually occurring 3 times a day or more. Diarrhoea can affect anyone and it normally isn’t a cause of concern. It will usually last for a few days to a week, and make things distressing, unpleasant and potentially embarrassing until it passes. There are a number of ways that diarrhoea can be treated, and also things that can be done when suffering from the condition when out and about, in particular when travelling.
Diarrhoea is a condition in the bowel that is caused by a number of reasons. These conditions can affect adults and children. A common reason for diarrhoea occurring is a bowel infection known as gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis causes vomiting as well as diarrhoea and is normally caused by a bacteria or an infection in the stomach. Other causes of diarrhoea include anxiety, a food allergy, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Long-term diarrhoea, known as persistent diarrhoea, is caused by IBS and other conditions which include:
- Crohn’s disease – Inflammation of the lining of the digestive system
- Ulcerative colitis – Inflamed colon and rectum
- Coeliac disease – When the immune system reacts to eating gluten which causes chronic inflammation
- Bile acid malabsorption – Liver acid builds up in the digestive system
- Chronic pancreatitis = An inflamed pancreas
- Diverticular disease – Small bulges or pockets form in the lining of the intestine and can cause inflammation or infection
- Bowel cancer – Cancer that forms in the large bowel. It can form in the small bowel too but it is less common
Diarrhoea can also happen after surgery on the stomach or after removing part of the stomach as a result of stomach cancer.
In most cases, diarrhoea will clear up in a few days, or a week at the most. In children, this may be up to 2 weeks. There is a range of treatments available that will help to reduce the symptoms of diarrhoea. There are medicines available that will work to reduce the symptoms. These are available on prescription or OTC. The active ingredient in these treatments will most likely be either loperamide (found in Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). Loperamide slows down the bowel movements, allowing for fluid to be absorbed into the body. This allows for less diarrhoea and more solid stools to be excreted. Bismuth subsalicylate reduces inflammation in the bowel and stops bacteria from growing in the stomach and intestines.
Painkillers are also suitable to be used during bouts of diarrhoea. Painkillers may not stop diarrhoea itself, but they can reduce the pains that are associated with the condition. Painkillers that are suitable are paracetamol and ibuprofen.
In some cases, where the cause of the diarrhoea is known to be a type of bacteria, then antibiotics will help to provide relief for diarrhoea. If you do not know the cause of diarrhoea, then do not use antibiotics as they can cause some serious side effects and can become less effective when they are needed.
When it comes to treating a long-term condition, the things that you can do vary depending on the condition. With IBS, there are a number of ways you can treat its effects. This includes changing your diet, including having more fibre. You can also reduce the amount of caffeine that you drink and also fizzy drinks. Exercising is another way of reducing the symptoms associated with diarrhoea. Recommended forms of exercise include cycling or fast walking, as this will increase the heartbeat and breathing rate. For inflammatory conditions, there is a medication that can reduce inflammation which is available with a prescription. Treating coeliac disease can be done by cutting out foods that contain gluten. Other causes of diarrhoea can also be treated with the right medication.
When suffering from diarrhoea, it is recommended that you stay at home while recovering. However, you can also get diarrhoea when travelling, which of course makes this impossible. Traveller’s diarrhoea as it is known as a type of diarrhoea that is associated with getting bowel movements that are loose within the first week of travelling. In the majority of cases, it is a mild form of diarrhoea. The most likely cause of traveller’s diarrhoea is bacteria such as E coli and salmonella. This is done through water or food that is contaminated. Spicy food can also cause diarrhoea in some cases.
Treating mild forms of traveller’s diarrhoea can be done with hydration by drinking water that is clean or with treatments such as loperamide. For more severe forms of traveller’s diarrhoea, it is recommended that you speak to a medical professional as soon as you can. If you have a pre-existing condition such as IBS, you can consider your own treatment. Treatments include medication for IBS which include drugs such as loperamide, or antibiotics if it is bacteria that causes diarrhoea.