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Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the frequency and looseness of
bowel movements. Mild diarrhea is the passage of a few loose or
mushy bowel movements. Severe diarrhea is the passage of many
watery bowel movements. The best indicator of the severity of the
diarrhea is its frequency.
The main complication of diarrhea is dehydration from excessive
loss of body fluids. Symptoms of dehydration are a dry mouth, the
absence of tears, infrequent urination (for example, none in 12
hours), and a darker, concentrated urine. The main goal of
diarrhea treatment is to prevent dehydration.
Diarrhea is usually caused by a viral infection of the lining of
the intestines (gastroenteritis). Sometimes it is caused by
bacteria or parasites. Bacterial diarrhea usually causes blood or
lots of mucus in the stools. A food allergy or drinking too much
fruit juice may cause diarrhea. If you have just one or two loose
bowel movements, the cause was probably something unusual you ate.
Diarrhea from a viral or bacterial infection usually lasts from
several days to 2 weeks, regardless of the type of treatment. The
main goal of treatment is to prevent dehydration by making sure
you drink enough fluids to replace the fluids lost in the
diarrhea. Don't expect a quick return to solid bowel movements.
Eat a regular diet with a few simple changes:
You can go back to your normal diet 1 day after the diarrhea
is gone, which is usually in 3 or 4 days.
Probiotics contain healthy bacteria (lactobacilli) that can
replace unhealthy bacteria in the GI tract.
Yogurt is the easiest source of probiotics. Have yogurt twice
daily while you have diarrhea. Today almost all yogurts are
"active culture", which means that they contain live and
Probiotic supplements in granules, tablets, or capsules are
also available in health food stores.
The most dangerous myth is that the intestine should be "put
to rest". Avoiding fluids can cause dehydration. There is no
effective, safe drug for diarrhea. Extra fluids and diet
therapy work best. Avoid fruit juices (especially apple and
grape) because they make diarrhea worse.
Diarrhea can be very contagious. Always wash your hands after
using the toilet. This is crucial for keeping everyone in the
family from getting diarrhea.
If you vomit more than twice, treatment of the vomiting should
take priority over the treatment of diarrhea until you have
gone 8 hours without vomiting. Follow your doctor's
recommended treatment for vomiting.
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