Excess water can cause digestive problems

Diarrhea: causes, symptoms & treatment

SOS tips: This helps with acute diarrhea

If diarrhea occurs acutely and is not chronic, the following measures can help:

  • Drink enough tea or water to make up for fluid loss.
  • Take electrolyte solution from the pharmacy.
  • Eat only light, low-fat foods. Rusks, white bread or steamed carrots are recommended, as these are usually easy to digest
  • Grated apples (with peel) and bananas (pureed) contain a lot of pectin and can therefore bind the water.

What is diarrhea

One speaks of diarrhea when stool is excreted more than three times a day, the consistency of which is rather shapeless, i.e. mushy to watery. The acute diarrhea is usually harmless and passes quickly. Diarrhea is often a symptom of various diseases. For example, it could be due to an infection, food poisoning or even a tumor. Acute diarrhea usually heals on its own without taking medication. However, if severe symptoms persist over a longer period of time, drug therapy is advisable. Because severe water and electrolyte loss can weaken the body enormously within hours. Diarrhea is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, nausea, or vomiting.

Causes of diarrhea

If diarrhea occurs suddenly and lasts only a few days, pathogens such as viruses or bacteria are usually responsible. Long-lasting, chronic, diarrhea can be the result of serious illnesses.

Possible causes of acute diarrhea are:

  • Gastrointestinal infections. The triggers are usually bacteria and viruses such as human noroviruses, human rotaviruses or E. coli bacteria (Escherichia coli) or salmonella.
  • Food gone bad. They can lead to food poisoning. The trigger here are bacteria that produce toxins. For example Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus.
  • Food allergies or intolerances. Affected people react to certain foods after eating. The underlying causes are often: histamine intolerance, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance (celiac disease), but also allergies to strawberries, milk, nuts, protein or fish.
  • Poisoning. Mostly caused by chemicals or fungi.
  • Infections with parasites, such as amones or lambliae (giardiasis)
  • Medication. Antibiotics can cause diarrhea, as can laxatives. Cancer drugs (cytostatics), but also iron preparations or food supplements (vitamin C) can cause diarrhea.
  • Psychosomatic triggers such as fear or stress.

Possible causes of chronic diarrhea are:

  • Pathological overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Chronic inflammatory bowel disease: ulcerative colitis (chronic inflammation in the end and often also in the large intestine), Crohn's disease (chronic inflammation that can affect the entire digestive tract)
  • Chronic intestinal infections caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites
  • Chronic inflammation of the lining of the stomach (chronic gastritis)
  • Inflammation of bulges in the bowel (diverticulitis)
  • Malassimilation syndrome (insufficient intake and utilization of food components)
  • Tumor diseases.

Diarrhea - when to see a doctor?

If diarrhea persists severely even after three days, a doctor should be consulted. This applies even earlier to babies, toddlers or the elderly. The high loss of fluid can lead to dehydration and thus be dangerous for the sick person. If you have a fever, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, circulatory problems or even blood in your stool, it is recommended that you call an emergency doctor or go to a hospital outpatient department. If poisoning is suspected, a doctor should also be consulted immediately. If the patient was recently in a subtropical or tropical country where typhus or cholera occurs, the cause of the diarrhea must be clarified as quickly as possible.

Diarrhea Diagnosis

In the conversation with the patient, the doctor gains a comprehensive impression of the type and extent of the disease. Important information is the previous medical history, but also possible use of medication and eating habits. If diarrhea always occurs immediately after eating, this could indicate a food intolerance or a disease of the pancreas. Information about abnormalities in the chair is also important. For example, is there blood or phlegm? Have the color and volume of the urine also changed? - Dark urine and smaller amounts than usual may indicate the beginning of dehydration. If the person concerned is just returning from a trip, the suspicion of an infectious cause is obvious.

The doctor will now examine the patient carefully: palpate the abdominal organs, check the heart and lungs, measure the body temperature and possibly also check the weight. The condition of the skin, mouth and tongue are also relevant to the diagnosis. In certain cases, the doctor will palpate the rectum to determine if there is any tissue growth.

If diarrhea lasts longer, the stool is usually examined for possible pathogens. A blood analysis may also be indicated. In addition to checking by the doctor and laboratory values, imaging methods such as ultrasound (sonography), computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) can also be used.

Treatment of diarrhea

Anyone suffering from diarrhea should ensure that they are adequately hydrated. It is just as important to replace the excreted electrolytes as quickly as possible. Black tea (only for adults) and herbal tea are beneficial. Vegetable broth makes sense, as sugar and salt are added to the body at the same time. If you also suffer from vomiting, you should try to absorb liquid in small amounts, if necessary with a spoon.

What can the doctor do?

If the diarrhea does not improve after three days, a doctor should be consulted. Usually, an initial conversation and a physical examination provide the decisive clue as to the cause of the diarrhea. If this is not the case, the attending physician can initiate the following checks:

  • Blood test: It can provide information about pathogens, antibodies, inflammation, hormonal disorders or tumor markers.
  • Stool examination: Pathogens such as viruses or bacteria can be identified.
  • Examination of the abdomen: The doctor will examine the abdomen by palpation, and can also use ultrasound and X-ray equipment.
  • Allergy test: if food allergies are suspected.
  • Test for lactose intolerance: If you suspect lactose intolerance
  • Small intestine endoscopy: If you suspect gluten intolerance (celiac disease), also to examine the bile ducts and pancreatic ducts.
  • Colonoscopy: If you suspect irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease and tumors.
  • Tissue sample: taking a tissue sample (biopsy) to detect inflammatory changes or tumors.

Which drugs help against diarrhea?

Probiotics: Are available in capsule or powder form in pharmacies. Lactic acid bacteria can also be absorbed through yogurt. These so-called "good" bacteria can shorten acute diarrheal illnesses by settling in the intestines and displacing the harmful bacteria.

Charcoal tablets: Medicinal charcoal supports the binding of bacteria and toxins and their subsequent elimination.

Loperamide: Supports the increased absorption of water from the digestive pulp and thus ensures its thickening. Diarrhea can be stopped in this way.

Antibiotics: Antibiotics are used for diseases such as typhoid or cholera, but also for infections with the bacterium Clostridium difficile (since 2016 Clostridioides difficile). - Under no circumstances should antibiotics be taken if EHEC (enterohaemorrhagic E. Coli) is suspected. This could lead to life-threatening kidney failure.

Special antiparasitic drugs: Are prescribed for giardiasis (lamellae dysentery) and amebiasis (Entamoeba histolytica).

These home remedies help with diarrhea

Anyone suffering from acute diarrhea should first compensate for fluid and electrolyte loss.

  • According to the WHO, the following drinking solution is recommended: four teaspoons of sugar, ¾ teaspoon of salt, one cup of orange juice and one liter of mineral water. Mix everything well. About 40 milliliters of liquid should be drunk per kilogram of body weight within a day. With a weight of 75 kilograms, that's three liters. If you don't like orange juice or don't have it in stock, you can also eat two bananas.
  • Many herbal teas are also beneficial and effective. Among other things, peppermint, fennel and chamomile tea. Likewise black tea. Its tannins help to bind the fluid in the intestine. The longer the tea steeps, the more tannins it contains. (Not for young children.)
  • Grated apples (with peel) and bananas contain the vegetable gelling agent pectin. It can bind excess water in the intestines and thus thicken the stool.
  • Prepare carrot soup according to Moro. Carrots also contain a lot of pectin. In addition, oligosaccharides (sugar molecules) are formed during cooking, the structure of which is similar to the intestinal receptors. The diarrhea pathogens bind to the sugar molecules (and not to the intestinal wall) and are excreted.
  • Eat light foods. For example rusks, lightly salted gruel soup or vegetable broth.
  • Take charcoal tablets. Medicinal charcoal, also called activated charcoal, strengthens the stool and supports the rapid elimination of pathogens.
  • Place the hot water bottle on your stomach. The heat helps if the diarrhea is accompanied by abdominal cramps. That relaxes.

Homeopathy for diarrhea

The most recommended homeopathic remedies for diarrhea - both for children and adults - include: Arsenicum album, Veratrum album or Mercurius. There are also numerous other means. Depending on the individual cause of the diarrheal disease and its accompanying symptoms, a specific active ingredient is indicated in each case.

How can I prevent diarrhea?

In most cases, diarrhea is caused by bacteria or viruses. Therefore, proper hygiene is the focus of prevention.

  • Regular and thorough hand washing is important.
  • Wash uncooked foods, such as fruits and vegetables, before consuming them.

If diarrhea is caused by stress, learning tried and tested relaxation techniques can help. From breathing exercises to autogenic training to yoga or meditation.

When traveling to tropical and subtropical countries, additional precautionary measures apply:

  • If possible, only eat cooked food. Always peel the fruit.
  • You should avoid: tap water, salads, raw vegetables, unpeeled fruit, cold dips, mayonnaise, ice and ice cubes, pudding, raw meat and raw fish.
  • Do not brush your teeth with tap water.

What are the consequences of diarrhea?

Acute, severe, diarrhea can lead to dehydration. It is therefore important to drink enough and replace electrolytes that are eliminated. (for example with vegetable broth or electrolyte solution from the pharmacy). With severe fluid loss, the risk of circulatory disorders, thromboses and embolisms (blood clots), kidney failure and shock increases. Some germs that cause infectious diarrhea can trigger rheumatoid arthritis. Diarrhea can also interfere with the absorption of medicines from the intestines. If treated inadequately, an infection such as typhoid can become life-threatening.

Diarrhea in the elderly

Diarrhea can be dangerous, especially for older people. The high loss of fluid quickly threatens to dry out (dehydration). Concentration problems, dry lips and difficulty swallowing are corresponding signs. It is therefore important to drink as much as possible. These can be lightly sweetened herbal teas or black tea, but still mineral water and broth are also suitable. Grated apple with peel or mashed banana can aid recovery. The pectin contained in it binds excess water in the intestine and thickens the stool. Rusks, toast and rice are also easily digestible foods and can be eaten if you have a corresponding appetite. If the diarrhea is very severe, characterized by other accompanying symptoms (fever, cramps, pain) or if it lasts longer than three days, a doctor should be consulted. If the sick person takes medication for other ailments, the doctor should be informed as soon as possible. This is because diarrhea can interfere with the absorption of medication from the intestine.

Diarrhea in young children and babies

If toddlers and infants have diarrhea, a doctor should be informed soon. Right at the beginning of the disease, it is important to compensate for the loss of fluid and salt with an electrolyte-glucose mixture. It is available from the pharmacy. It is not recommended for children under five years of age to mix their own juice and water drinks with sugar and salt. Drinking a lot and regularly is advisable if you have diarrhea. Teas such as chamomile, peppermint or fennel are recommended. The food should be enriched with boiled carrots, grated apple, banana, potatoes or rice. These foods are binding and can improve stool consistency. Infants should definitely be given a low-fat diet, such as rice and potatoes or bananas.

FAQs about diarrhea

What to do in case of acute diarrhea

  • Drink still mineral water, black tea, or herbal tea. It is important to compensate for the loss of fluid.
  • Take electrolyte solution from the pharmacy.
  • Eat light foods. Grated apple (with peel), mashed banana, potatoes or rice.

If symptoms persist and last longer than three days, a doctor should be consulted.

How long does diarrhea last?

It depends on what caused the diarrhea. In the case of acute diarrhea, it can end after a few days. However, after two to three weeks at the latest. If the symptoms persist, one speaks of chronic diarrhea.

Which foods should you avoid if you have diarrhea?

Anyone suffering from diarrhea should avoid fatty and spicy foods. Likewise raw vegetables and fruit. Grated apples and bananas are an exception. Bloating vegetables, such as onions or cabbage, are taboo. Coffee and alcohol must also be avoided.

Which drugs help with diarrhea?

In the event of acute diarrhea, electrolyte solutions from the pharmacy can help. Charcoal tablets can bind bacteria and toxins. The use of antibiotics is indicated if certain bacterial infections are involved (for example with Clostridium difficile (since 2016 Clostridioides difficile). Typhoid fever or cholera are also treated with antibiotics. The drug requires a prescription.

Is Diarrhea Contagious?

Diarrhea can be contagious if it is caused by viruses or bacteria and the necessary hygiene measures are not followed. Anyone who is sick themselves or who cares for someone who is affected should make sure they wash their hands regularly. So that there is no smear infection through the use of the same sanitary rooms, particular attention must be paid to cleanliness.

Diarrhea caused by food intolerance, poisoning or as a symptom of another illness is not communicable.