Overview – What is it?
Diarrhoeal disease is defined as the passing of watery, liquid, or very loose stools three or more times per day. This frequency in the passing of watery stools is usually caused by bacteria, a virus or by parasites. Other major causes include malnutrition, poor hygiene, drinking or eating contaminated water or food.
Diarrhoea can be acute, chronic and persistent. Some of the symptoms are pain in the abdomen, blood in the stool, and fever. Diagnosing diarrhoeal disease can be done by checking the blood or stool for infection, and performing a rectal examination, among other tests.
Rehydration is one of the major treatment options for diarrhoeal disease. Zinc supplements may be given, and one should eat nutrient rich foods. To prevent diarrhoeal disease, one should maintain good hygiene, drink water that is safe for human consumption, and get vaccinated against the rotavirus.
Causes – What causes it?
There are a number of factors that can lead to one getting diarrhoeal disease, including:
- Infection: This a major cause of diarrhoea and is brought about by bacteria, parasites or viruses which are spread, mostly through contaminated water. A common agent that leads to diarrhoea is rotavirus. Poor sanitation and lack of clean water for drinking and cooking are what lead to the spread of organisms that cause diarrhoea.
- Malnutrition: This is mostly the case for children under 5 years of age, because malnutrition makes children more vulnerable to diarrhoea.
Poor personal hygiene: This can lead to the disease being transmitted from one individual to another.
- Storing food in unhygienic conditions: This can lead to the food becoming contaminated and therefore increases the chances of the organisms that cause diarrhoea being passed on through the stored food.
- Eating fish or other seafood that has been harvested from polluted water can also contribute to a person getting diarrhoeal disease.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
To better understand the signs and symptoms brought about by diarrhoeal disease, it is important to understand that there are different types of diarrhoea, depending on how long it lasts and the appearance of the stool. The types of diarrhoea include:
- Acute watery diarrhoea which starts suddenly, lasts for several hours or days, and leads to excessive loss of water and salts, and which can lead to death if not treated.
- Chronic bloody diarrhoea which lasts for 3 weeks and is also referred to as dysentery.
- Persistent diarrhoea which, on the other hand, lasts for 14 days or longer. It can be an indication of an underlying condition such as irritable bowel syndrome.
The symptoms for diarrhoeal disease include:
- Watery or loose or fluid-like stool.
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Feeling nauseous
- Presence of blood in the stool
- Constant urination
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
To determine whether a person is suffering from diarrhoeal disease, the following tests can be carried out:
- An initial consultation with a doctor who checks your temperature levels and finds out how often you need to visit the toilet, whether you have been in contact with anyone who is suffering from diarrhoea, and other information that may be helpful in the diagnosis.
- A stool test in which stool sample is checked to find out whether the stool is watery and whether it contains any blood.
- A blood test to check for signs of inflammation. This test is done to determine whether the diarrhoea is being caused by any underlying health conditions.
- A digital rectal examination (DRE) to check the rectum, especially in cases where a person has persistent diarrhoea.
- A colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy which are tests done to examine the bowel by inserting a flexible tube with a camera into the rectum.
- The avoidance of certain foods to test for food intolerances.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
Diarrhoea caused by an infection can clear up on its own, especially if you do the following:
- Rehydrate by taking lots of clean drinking water or other fluids that contain water, sugar and salt, or water mixed with juice.
- Taking oral rehydration solutions which, you can get from a pharmacy, and
Eating solid foods that are light and avoiding fatty and spicy foods.
If the diarrhoea does not clear on its own, then medication may be recommended by a doctor. These medicines include antidiarrheal medicines, antibiotics and painkillers.
In cases where the doctor discovers from the tests that the diarrhoea is being caused by underlying health conditions, medications will be given to treat the specific conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease, among others.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
Here are some of the ways you can prevent yourself from getting diarrhoeal disease:
- Using clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning
- Practising good hygiene in food preparation and storage
- Washing hands with soap after using a toilet
- Getting vaccinated for rotavirus
- Ensuring your baby is breastfed for the first six months of life
- Educating people about how infections are spread