Diarrhea: What You Need to Know
WHAT IS DIARRHEA?
Diarrhea is a condition that involves loose or watery stools that can be a sudden or random experience, or rather a more acute or chronic nature. People of all ages can experience diarrhea. In many cases, it is a companion symptom of another related health issue such as stomach flu or foodborne illness.
However, some causes of diarrhea can be more complex and symptomatic of a serious digestive issue. Symptoms of diarrhea are often a horrible cramping feeling in the stomach, gas, and a constant need to go to the bathroom or loss of bowel control.
WHAT CAUSES DIARRHEA?
The most common causes of diarrhea are:
● Ingesting bacteria from contaminated food or water source.
● Viruses: flu, norovirus, rotavirus
● Ulcerative Colitis
● Pharmaceutical drugs/medicines I.e., antibiotics, antidepressants, or cancer drugs
● Lactose intolerance
● Supplements, foods, or medicines
● Stomach or gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s Disease or IBS
● Ingestion of a parasite found in food or water
● Rich dietary choices or certain spices
● Food allergies
HOW LONG SHOULD DIARRHEA LAST?
Diarrhea can be a random or rare event, or even sometimes intermittent depending on the cause or circumstance. Unfortunately, if diarrhea continues past a few days, the cause may be linked to a potential viral infection. Sometimes, the exact cause of diarrhea is not realized or known.
For diarrhea lasting more than a few days, or prolonged diarrhea, it is possibly caused by a condition tied to gastrointestinal disease such as IBD. Scheduling an appointment with the nearest gastroenterologist can help shed light on possible causes and treatment options.
Fast Fact: Approximately 1.6 million Americans currently have IBD, a growth of about 200,000 since the last time CCFA reported this figure (in 2011). [Source: Crohn’s-Colitis Foundation]
WHAT IS CONSTANT DIARRHEA A SIGN OF?
One should view constant diarrhea as a strong indicator of something amiss within the gastrointestinal system. Intermittent diarrhea or random diarrhea could be the result of a poor food choice or temporary illness, however, diarrhea lasting for more than two weeks is a sign to seek treatment. Going untreated can result in dehydration or other adverse health conditions.
*Of special note, diarrhea in children is a very dangerous condition. If you or your child is experiencing acute or chronic diarrhea, seek medical attention right away.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN YOUR POOP COMES OUT LIKE WATER?
Feces or “Poop” is the product of undigested food. The color is typically brown because it is comprised of compounds such as bile, fiber, mucous, and live bacteria. Watery stools take place when the rectum has filled up with liquid and gas forcing the contents out – sometimes referred to as explosive diarrhea. The experience can be sudden and very uncomfortable.
Additionally, when there is an absence of firm stools, sometimes it is an indicator of a larger gastrointestinal issue such as:
● Intestinal Inflammation
● Ulcerative Colitis
● Bile Acid Malabsorption
● Cystic Fibrosis
WHAT DOES BLOOD IN YOUR STOOL MEAN?
Finding blood in your stool is a scary discovery. It is important to know that rectal bleeding has varied potential causes – some of which are not-so-serious and others requiring immediate medical intervention. The gastrointestinal system includes many body parts such as the rectum, the anus, the stomach, the colon, etc. Determining the cause and source of the bleeding is the best course of action, especially if it is on-going (more than once).
Taking notice of subtle color changes of your stool can help provide your doctor with clues to help uncover the culprit. In not so serious cases, sometimes the culprit is as simple as iron supplementation which can also resemble bloody or tarry looking stools. It is important to see a specialist as untreated bloody stools may lead to other health conditions such as anemia, low blood pressure, dizziness, and fainting.
Possible reasons for bloody stools include:
● Hemorrhoids/ Anal Fissures
● Food Poisoning
● Colon Polyps
● IBD/Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis
WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT WHEN YOU VISIT YOUR GASTROENTEROLOGIST FOR BLOODY STOOLS?
- A specialist will perform tests to better understand the true location of the bleeding and recommend treatment to help correct it. The process also includes a fecal occult blood test, where a laboratory technician checks for blood in the stool. This is to test for bleeding from the GI tract that is otherwise undetectable to the patient. Other tests that are routinely administered to help determine the cause of the bleeding may include:
- Digital Rectal Examination (DRE): This is a manual procedure where a doctor examines the rectum via a lubricated gloved hand. The specialist is examining the area for abnormalities.
- Anoscopy or Proctoscopy: This is a medical procedure typically done in tandem with the DRE mentioned above, but also involves the insertion of a secondary instrument to examine the area more thoroughly. An enema is typically administered before the procedure.
- Sigmoidoscopy: This is a medical procedure to examine the area and remove small growths. This involves the insertion of medical-grade instrumentation and an enema is administered prior to the procedure.
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD): This is a medical procedure that involves medical grade instrumentation with a camera on the end that is inserted into the mouth and down into the esophageal area. Tissue samples may be taken at this time as well.
- Colonoscopy: This is a medical procedure in which the entire colon is examined. This procedure is performed under anesthesia. It requires a complete evacuation of the colon with special liquids is administered in the days before the procedure.
FINDING A GASTROENTEROLOGY SPECIALIST LOCATED IN SARATOGA
Our practice, Saratoga Schenectady Gastroenterology Associates is located in Saratoga, NY. Scheduling an appointment is easy and convenient. You will find our board-certified doctors to be approachable and committed to delivering the best in care standards. Contact our office today with any questions or concerns.