Diarrhea is a common medical condition with various causes. In general, diarrhea refers to loose stool in the lower intestine. The accumulation of excess water causes stool discharges to be fluid. Diarrhea is not a disease, but it is usually caused by the presence of bacteria or viruses. The lower intestine, also known as the colon, readily absorbs excess water from digested food matter. When the digestive system cannot perform this task because of water retention – commonly caused by an infection – the resulting stool is loose, and discharges become frequent and uncontrollable.
Depending on the age of the afflicted individual, certain viruses or parasites in the body can affect the overall workings of the digestive system. This is in addition to any other symptoms experienced by the individual. Babies, toddlers, and young children are especially susceptible to diarrhea caused by the presence of viruses.
Some of the most common viruses that can cause diarrhea symptoms include rotavirus, Norwalk virus, and viral hepatitis. Adenoviruses are also known to cause diarrhea, especially in young children. An adenovirus attacks the membranes of the respiratory system, eyes, or urinary tract. This family of viruses account for a good percentage of respiratory infections in children as well. Adenovirus types 40 and 41 are often responsible for diarrhea cases.
Diarrhea from waterborne or foodborne parasites is well known to travelers. The body tends to recognize familiar parasites or bacteria and can deal with them before they begin to multiply. However, when traveling abroad, those who consume unpurified water can become susceptible to unknown parasites, with diarrhea being a common symptom.
Some medications, especially pharmaceutical medicines, can cause diarrhea as a side effect. Antibiotics destroy much of the friendly flora in the upper and lower digestive system, the result being a disruption of normal digestion.
Symptoms of diarrhea include abdominal cramps and bloating. Watery stool is discharged frequently, and the individual may experience a slight fever as well as a feeling of overall discomfort. The symptoms generally disappear after one or two days. These symptoms are a result of the body’s natural defense system battling an infection or parasites, leaving the body weaker but without the problem of water retention.
Normally, diarrhea is not considered a serious condition. However, if the symptoms persist for more than 48 hours, dehydration is a possibility. This is especially serious when infants or toddlers show diarrhea symptoms. Young children who become dehydrated are more likely to show very slow signs of recovery, and the entire body receives less food via the blood stream because the individual cells are not saturated properly with moisture.
Flu-like symptoms are many, and the particular ones experienced by an individual with diarrhea depend on the type of virus being combated by the body’s defense system. Abdominal flu is nearly always accompanied by symptoms of diarrhea, but as the body begins to recover and the cramps disappear, stool solidity
eventually returns to normal.
The only reason an adult should see a physician when diarrhea is experienced is if the symptoms last for more than 48 hours. This could be a sign that the cause of the condition is more serious than a simple invasion by viruses or parasites. The combination of viral infection and the administration of medications already prescribed for some other medical condition may cause the diarrhea to last longer and could be the sign of a serious side effect.
Young children with persistent diarrhea symptoms should be seen by a doctor. This is especially true if an accompanying fever is also persistent. Drinking lots of water or juice is necessary to replenish the large amounts of water discharged along with the stool. In serious cases, children may be given fluids intravenously if dehydration has been diagnosed.