Causes of Sudden Diarrhea



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Diarrhea, also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having at least three loose, liquid, or watery bowel movements each day.[2] It often lasts for a few days and can result in dehydration due to fluid loss.[2] Signs of dehydration often begin with loss of the normal stretchiness of the skin and irritable behaviour.[2] This can progress to decreased urination, loss of skin color, a fast heart rate, and a decrease in responsiveness as it becomes more severe.[2] Loose but non-watery stools in babies who are exclusively breastfed, however, are normal.[2]

The most common cause is an infection of the intestines due to either a virus, bacterium, or parasite—a condition also known as gastroenteritis.[2] These infections are often acquired from food or water that has been contaminated by feces, or directly from another person who is infected.[2] The three types of diarrhea are: short duration watery diarrhea, short duration bloody diarrhea, and persistent diarrhea (lasting more than two weeks, which can be either watery or bloody).[2] The short duration watery diarrhea may be due to cholera, although this is rare in the developed world.[2] If blood is present, it is also known as dysentery.[2] A number of non-infectious causes can result in diarrhea.[5] These include lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis, hyperthyroidism, bile acid diarrhea, and a number of medications.[5][6][7] In most cases, stool cultures to confirm the exact cause are not required.[8]

Diarrhea can be prevented by improved sanitation, clean drinking water, and hand washing with soap.[2] Breastfeeding for at least six months and vaccination against rotavirus is also recommended.[2] Oral rehydration solution (ORS)—clean water with modest amounts of salts and sugar—is the treatment of choice.[2] Zinc tablets are also recommended.[2] These treatments have been estimated to have saved 50 million children in the past 25 years.[1] When people have diarrhea it is recommended that they continue to eat healthy food and babies continue to be breastfed.[2] If commercial ORS is not available, homemade solutions may be used.[9] In those with severe dehydration, intravenous fluids may be required.[2] Most cases, however, can be managed well with fluids by mouth.[10] Antibiotics, while rarely used, may be recommended in a few cases such as those who have bloody diarrhea and a high fever, those with severe diarrhea following travelling, and those who grow specific bacteria or parasites in their stool.[8] Loperamide may help decrease the number of bowel movements but is not recommended in those with severe disease.[8]

About 1.7 to 5 billion cases of diarrhea occur per year.[2][5][11] It is most common in developing countries, where young children get diarrhea on average three times a year.[2] Total deaths from diarrhea are estimated at 1.53 million in 2019—down from 2.9 million in 1990.[4] In 2012, it was the second most common cause of deaths in children younger than five (0.76 million or 11%).[2][12] Frequent episodes of diarrhea are also a common cause of malnutrition and the most common cause in those younger than five years of age.[2] Other long term problems that can result include stunted growth and poor intellectual development.[12]
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