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Diarrhoea


Table of Contents

  1. What is diarrhoea ?
  2. What are the causes of diarrhoea ?
  3. What are the various types of diarrhoea ?
  4. What are the dangers of acute diarrhoea ?
  5. What other complaints could be present alongwith the condition ?
  6. What should one do if there is diarrhoea ?
  7. Can mother's milk be given to children who are being breast-fed ?
  8. What are the common medicines that one could take if one has diarrhoea ?
  9. Special Note

What is diarrhoea ?

Diarrhoea is the condition where there is an increase in the frequency, fluidity, and volume of bowel movements. The contents may consist of faecal matter, blood, mucous and plenty of water.

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What are the causes of diarrhoea ?

The most important factor being infections that are mostly from water and the infecting organism could be bacteria, parasites or viruses. In children viruses are the most common cause while in adults it is the bacteria. A very important cause, which is more common than it is otherwise thought and is quite frequently overlooked, is nervousness.
It is noteworthy that most of the diarrhoeal conditions are essentially self-limiting and should be easily diagnosed by your doctor. Most often they are the consequences of indiscretions in eating and drinking - like eating salads, fruits, etc., that are not freshly cut and eaten, drinking water from suspect sources, eating cold foods especially fish, eggs, and meat that have not been properly prepared.
There are other causes of diarrhoea but these lead to chronic diarrhoea rather than of the acute type and these may be caused by are antibiotic therapy, diseases causing inflammation of the bowels, habitual intake of medication causing increased bowel movement, cancer, viral infections of the liver, diseases of the gall bladder, improper absorption of the ingested material by the bowel, diseases of the pancreas, diabetes, excessive functioning by the thyroid gland, malnutrition (particularly in children), allergy to certain foods, excessive intake of fresh fruits, etc.

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What are the various types of diarrhoea ?

  1. Acute - these are of sudden onset, especially after eating/drinking out.
  2. Chronic - these are situations where the person has diarrhoea even when eating/drinking proper foods and water. Usually the cause is serious enough requiring thorough investigation by your doctor.
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What are the dangers of acute diarrhoea ?

Excessive loss of water from the body leading to a condition called dehydration. Alongwith the loss of water there is loss of essential electrolytes (like Sodium, Chloride, Potassium, Magnesium, etc.). All of these add up, unless properly treated and in time, the condition could jolly well be fatal.

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What other complaints could be there alongwith diarrhoea ?

Usually nausea and vomiting in acute cases. Chronic cases could have many concomitant complaints depending upon the underlying cause. Sometimes the condition may be preceded by a period of constipation.

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What should one do if there is diarrhoea ?

See a qualified medical doctor as soon as possible. Till such time as this is not possible and if the number of motions is not more than a couple, one should try and avoid eating any foods till the diarrhoea stops. One must however take boiled and cooled water to which sugar and common (or table) salt has been added. The necessary proportion is a spoonful of sugar and one pinch of salt is mixed into a glass of water. You may also use the ORS packets available though some doctors do not prefer branded preparations made by pharmaceutical companies. Milk, other than mother's milk is to be avoided, as should glucose mixed in water since this may lead to discomfort in the stomach.
If the number of motions are more than two and especially there is nausea/vomiting, one must contact the nearest available medical doctor on an emergency basis immediately. However, the salt, sugar and water mix may be taken as often and as much as one possibly can - by persons of all ages - no matter how many motions one has had unless there is vomiting which naturally results in all things taken orally to be brought out. Such persons need to have an intravenous drip started without delay.

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Can mother's milk be given to children who are being breast-fed ?

A common myth of denying mother's milk to a child who is breast-feeding is mentioned here only to be condemned. Mother's milk should and must be given and that too as many times as the baby wishes to have. It may be fatal to the baby if mother's milk is denied. However, it must be pointed out that children get dehydrated more quickly than adults and hence, they must be examined by a medical doctor on an emergency basis.

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What are the common medicines that one can take if one has diarrhoea ?

Please follow the advise given by your doctor as scrupulously as you possibly can. If necessary, take a second opinion. Other than the salt, sugar and water mixture, nothing else should be taken without the advise of a qualified medical practitioner. Nothing could be more dangerous than self-medication. You may complicate matters more by doing this.

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Special Note

Please note that prevention is always better than cure. Moreover, nothing beats boiled and cooled water no matter what gadgets you have the water filtered through. The best is to have boiled and cooled water filtered through and then drunk, but most of the modern electronic gadgets do not have facilities that could allow this as they have to be attached to the water supply line directly.

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Compiled from various sources by Dr. S. B. Bhattacharyya.
Copyright [SUDISA]. All rights reserved.
Revised: September 09, 1999.