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Almost everyone experiences diarrhea at some point in their life, and its definition may vary from person to person. Generally, diarrhoea is characterised by an increase in bowel movements, watery or poorly formed stools, or both. In addition to these symptoms, diarrhea may also cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and dizziness, indicating dehydration. Bloody stools may also be a sign of diarrhoea.

Infective diarrhoea

Infectious diarrhea can result from viral or bacterial causes. Some common bacterial causes include E.coli, Salmonella (which can lead to typhoid fever), and Campylobacter, among others. Common viral causes of infectious diarrhea include enterovirus and rotavirus.

Most cases of infective diarrhoea are caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, or what is commonly known as Food Poisoning. Thankfully, most cases of Infective Diarrhoea are self limiting and will resolve in a few days. The most important thing to note is to keep onself hydrated during the period of diarrhoea.

Diet-related diarrhoea

The second most frequent cause of diarrhea is linked to food consumption and can be attributed to certain dietary items such as dairy products (lactose intolerance) and spicy foods. Typically, this condition resolves on its own and does not result in any lasting effects.

Celiac disease, on the other hand, is a medical condition that arises from consuming gluten, a substance that those with celiac disease are intolerant to. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, abdominal bloating, pain, nausea, and vomiting. Unlike other food-related causes of diarrhea, celiac disease can lead to long-term complications such as malabsorption and nutrition deficiencies. Avoiding gluten completely is the only certain way to prevent this condition.

Bacterial overgrowth-related diarrhoea

Bacterial overgrowth can occur in the small intestine. This can occur in the context of long term antibiotic usage and celiac disease among others. With bacterial overgrowth, the digestion and absorption of nutrition is affected, leading to a watery and explosive diarrhoea that persists.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a gastrointestinal condition that is not cancerous. It is characterised by changes in bowel movements and discomfort in the abdominal area. These changes in bowel movements can result in either diarrhoea (IBS-D) or constipation (IBS-C). When an individual experiences diarrhoea as part of their IBS, they may have more frequent bowel movements and looser stools, particularly when triggered by dietary or stress-related factors. However, these symptoms may be confused with those of colorectal cancer, which is a more serious condition.

Colorectal Cancer

Diarrhoea is a potential symptom of colorectal cancer and may be confused with other causes of diarrhoea. In colorectal cancer, diarrhea occurs due to a tumor that is blocking the normal passage of stools. This results in stool stasis and eventually leads to the liquefaction of stools, which causes diarrhoea.

The diarrhoea associated with colorectal cancer can be mistakenly diagnosed as IBS-Diarrhea. Therefore, it is crucial to conduct a thorough investigation before making a diagnosis of IBS, as other serious conditions such as colorectal cancer need to be ruled out.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a condition in which the gastrointestinal tract becomes chronically inflamed. There are two types of IBD, namely Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. If someone has undiagnosed IBD, they may experience symptoms such as chronic diarrhoea, which may contain blood, weight loss, anemia and nutritional deficiencies.

If you have had diarrhoea for more than two weeks, it’s important to seek medical advice from a specialist. This is especially important if you are aged 30 or over. It’s essential to rule out serious conditions such as IBD and colorectal cancer, among other possible causes. Typically, a colonoscopy will be required to eliminate these conditions.

For individuals with sudden-onset diarrhoea, it’s crucial to ensure that they stay hydrated by drinking sufficient fluids. If the person is vomiting and unable to drink fluids, or if the diarrhoea is too frequent, they may require intravenous fluids and anti-emetic medication.