Diarrhea is a condition of having multiple loose bowel movements or a change in the consistency of bowel movements from solid to loose. Acute diarrhea typically comes on suddenly and resolves in several days or weeks. Chronic diarrhea typically persists for a longer period of time. Most cases of acute diarrhea are due to either a viral or bacterial infection. The cause of chronic diarrhea is extensive and can include such conditions as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, Celiac Disease and even colon cancer.
Symptoms of diarrhea include frequent loose bowel movements, abdominal pain or cramping and sometimes fever. Stools may be loose, watery, bloody or fatty, depending upon the specific underlying cause.
The diagnostic approach to diarrhea is based on the extent and severity of the symptoms. Acute diarrhea is often self-limited and may require no testing. Stool specimens may be necessary to look for evidence of a bacterial or parasitic infection. Prolonged unexplained diarrhea may require a colonoscopy with biopsies of the intestinal lining to look for evidence of inflammation.
In most cases of diarrhea supportive care with fluid replacement and anti-diarrheal medications such as Imodium may be all that is necessary. Bacterial or parasitic infections may require antibiotic therapy. Specific conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis typically require specific therapy. Please see the reviews of those specific diseases for more information.