Man with diarrhea

Diarrhea is an embarrassing health issue that effects the bowels.

Diarrhea is defined as a loose, watery stool/feces that happens more frequently than normal bowel movements.

Some other terms used for diarrhea include loose stools, loose bowels and the runs.

The loose stools experienced with this condition are often combined with cramping, a feeling of urgency to evacuate the bowels and intestinal discomfort.

Common causes of a diarrheal cases include viruses, bacteria, contaminated water and contaminated food.  Other causes include eating foods which irritate the digestive tract, excessive alcohol, food allergies, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, nutrient malabsorption, medications and inappropriate use of laxatives.

Medications which can cause loose bowels include antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, NSAIDs, metformin, heartburn and ulcer medications and others.

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Colitis is an inflammation of the colon.  Both of these inflamed state of the GI tract can lead to loose and watery bowel movements.

Diarrhea associated with infectious organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, is often combined with fever.  Escherichia coli and Clostridium difficile are the two bacterial strains most often associated with gastroenteritis and frequent, watery stools.

Traveler’s diarrhea is a very common form of this condition.  Diarrhea is without a doubt the number one health issue among people traveling to Latin America, the Caribbean, southern Asia and North, East, and West Africa.  This condition affects 20 to 50 percent of people traveling to these areas.

One of the major concerns with watery bowel movements is that the loss of water from the body can lead to dehydration.  If you are having more than three loose, watery bowel movements in a day it is important to drink water to avoid dehydration.

Some treatment options for diarrheal illnesses include appropriate replacement of fluids and electrolytes, probiotics, supplementary fiber such as psyllium fiber, antimotility agents such as loperamide when appropriate, etc.

You may also wish to learn about fecal incontinence and/or irritable bowel syndrome.