I Have Diarrhea: Should I Call My Doctor?
Nobody feels like royalty when they’re sitting on the throne with diarrhea. It’s uncomfortable, maybe even painful, and you wonder when it’s ever going to end.
Diarrhea is a common gastrointestinal (GI) issue, and it’s usually unpleasant but harmless. In some instances, it’s a cause for concern, and you should call your doctor. Here’s how to recognize abnormal symptoms and what to do about them.
What Is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is loose, watery stools that cause an urgent need to go to the bathroom. It occurs more frequently than your normal bowel movements.
Much of the digestive process happens in the small intestine, where the food you’ve eaten arrives as a liquid. Your small intestine, along with your colon, absorbs this liquid and turns it into a solid bowel movement.
However, if something disrupts this process and the liquid isn’t absorbed, you’ll have diarrhea. This condition usually lasts between one and three days.
What Are The Symptoms Of Normal Diarrhea?
In addition to triggering an intense need to defecate, normal loose stools can cause:
- Lower abdominal cramps.
What Causes Diarrhea?
Most diarrhea that’s brief and doesn’t affect your overall health can have numerous causes:
- A viral infection, also called gastroenteritis or intestinal flu, can cause diarrhea.
- Spicy foods.
- Lactose intolerance or celiac disease.
- Certain medications and antibiotics.
Did you know that 300 to 500 varieties of bacteria live in your digestive tract? It may sound bizarre, but bacteria are an essential part of your intestines’ proper digestion and function. They also affect your mood, metabolism, and immune system.
Antibiotics can upset the balance of bacteria that live in the intestines. This paves the way for harmful bacteria such as C. difficile to invade and cause loose stools.
Bacteria in tainted water can cause traveler’s diarrhea. Traveler’s diarrhea can happen when visiting developing countries that have inadequate sanitation.
How To Treat Mild Diarrhea
Mild cases don’t require medical intervention. You can do a few simple things to manage it on your own.
- Take over-the-counter, bismuth salicylate remedies such as Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol.
- Drink plenty of water and electrolyte-rich sports drinks such as Gatoraid.
- Eat BRAT foods – This stands for Bananas, Rice (white), Applesauce, and Toast (white bread). You can also eat cream of wheat, oatmeal, and saltine crackers. Since these foods are bland, they won’t wreak havoc on your digestive system. They also bind, which helps solidify the loose stools.
- Avoid caffeinated foods such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and sodas.
- Avoid foods that cause bloating, such as beans, carbonated drinks, broccoli, and dairy products.
Are There Different Types OF Diarrhea?
There are three types of this condition, in varying degrees of severity:
- Acute: This type is common and, while uncomfortable, isn’t dangerous. It doesn’t require any medical attention and usually resolves on its own in a day or two.
- Persistent: Persistent refers to loose bowel movements that continue for three or four weeks and produce three or more stools a day.
- Chronic: This version persists for four weeks or more, or regularly comes and goes. Chronic diarrhea usually indicates a serious, underlying condition.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Severe diarrhea can be very dangerous or life-threatening. If you experience these symptoms, do not hesitate to call your doctor:
This ailment drains so much liquid from your body that you may experience dehydration. Dehydration is not just a normal thirst but your body’s way of telling you that you’re desperately in need of fluids. You may even need someone to administer an IV (intravenous administration of substances into the body through a vein) to replenish your body’s diminished fluids.
Red flags that you’re suffering from dehydration include:
- Little or no urination.
- Dark yellow urine.
- Dry skin and mouth.
- Feeling faint.
- Feeling weak.
- Elevated heart rate.
You can take preventative measures when you have loose bowel movements, so your fluid levels don’t become dangerously depleted. Continuously drink water and suck on ice chips. You can also drink clear liquids such as chicken broth, as well as electrolyte-rich drinks, and diluted, decaf tea.
Your Diarrhea Contains Pus
Pus is a jellylike discharge that indicates your body is battling inflammation. Your body naturally contains mucus that lines and protects the digestive tract. In a healthy digestive tract, it is clear and invisible.
However, if you see large amounts of yellow mucus in your loose stools, it could indicate a problem. If inflammation damages this layer of mucus, it provides infectious agents with the opportunity to weaken your digestive tract.
Diarrhea with pus may also indicate ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis sores can leak pus that exits when you defecate.
Bloody or Black Diarrhea
At the very least, bloody diarrhea could indicate a hemorrhoid. At worst, it could mean that you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. With either of these conditions, your immune system thinks your GI tract is an enemy and attacks it until it bleeds.
Loose stools that are black or tarry may indicate a problem in your upper gastrointestinal tract.
You’re Losing a Substantial Amount of Weight
When you have diarrhea, it’s natural to lose a bit of water weight. However, if you have constant diarrhea and drop several pounds within only a few days, it’s a danger sign that you have a serious condition such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
You Have Mouth Sores
You may want to write these off as canker sores, but when they occur with diarrhea they may be clues that you have a serious health issue.
Inflammation from Crohn’s disease could be the culprit since it affects the entire digestive tract, including the mouth. Celiac disease is also a possibility.
Intense Rectal or Stomach Pain
This pain can be caused by something as simple as gas or as serious as a ruptured appendix. It may also be caused by ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or IBS.
You Have a Fever Higher Than 102 Degrees Fahrenheit
Combined with loose bowel movements, a high fever could indicate that you have an infection that’s attacking your digestive tract. Again, conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease may be the cause.
Your Diarrhea Has Lasted Two Days and is Getting Worse
A stubborn viral or bacterial infection may cause diarrhea that won’t get better or go away. IBS, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease could also be responsible.
There’s usually a connection between extreme diarrhea and a corresponding medical issue.
How Is Diarrhea Diagnosed?
First, your doctor will evaluate your medical history, go over medications you take, and give you a physical exam. To provide an accurate diagnosis, they may order:
- Stool Test: A stool test examines feces. It determines whether a parasite, bacteria, or something else is responsible for your diarrhea.
- Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows the doctor to see the entire colon and any abnormalities. During a colonoscopy, a tube with an attached camera is inserted into the rectum. This way, the doctor can see the entire colon and any abnormalities. Biopsies of suspicious tissues can also be performed during this procedure.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Like a colonoscopy, a sigmoidoscopy involves using a tube with an attached camera inserted into the rectum. However, this procedure only enables the doctor to see the last two feet of the colon, rather than the entire thing.
- Blood Tests: A blood count can help identify the causes of your loose stools. These could be indications of anemia, inflammation, or infection.
- Hydrogen Breath Test: When you have excessive amounts of lactose in your system, your breath will exhibit elevated levels of hydrogen. By analyzing the amount of hydrogen in your breath, a doctor can determine whether you have lactose intolerance, causing your diarrhea.
- Fasting Test: You may have food allergies that are causing your loose stools. Your doctor will tell you to eliminate certain foods from your diet to see if your loose bowel movements resolve using this tactic.
How Can I Prevent Diarrhea?
Infection-related diarrhea can usually be prevented by taking simple precautions, including:
- Thoroughly wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom.
- Use hand sanitizer that is (as recommended by the CDC) at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Don’t drink water or eat fresh foods in foreign countries.
- Wash fruits and veggies before eating them.
- Thoroughly cook meat.
- Avoid unpasteurized dairy products.
- Pitch foods that have an expired “use by” date.
- Never put cooked meat on plates that have held raw meat.
Usually, diarrhea is something you can safely manage and treat at home. However, if it is accompanied by vomiting, intense pain, or other extreme symptoms, you should immediately get help from the skilled professionals at GastroMD. We’re well-versed in this condition and any underlying issues that may be affecting it.
Contact us today! The team of professionals at GastroMD looks forward to working with you. We are one of the leading gastroenterology practices in the Tampa Bay area. We perform a host of diagnostic procedures using state-of-the-art equipment in a friendly, comfortable, and inviting atmosphere where patient care is always a top priority!