What is Diarrhea?
Like constipation, diarrhea is also a condition that affects the integrity of bowel movements, but instead of causing difficulty diarrhea prompts watery and loose stools that are often uncontrollable. Diarrhea is a common experience among many people, and should only be considered a concern when it is frequent and long lasting, as it may indicate a more serious condition.
Diarrhea may be accompanied by cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, an urgent need to use the bathroom, or loss of bowel control. Some infections that cause diarrhea can also cause a fever and chills or bloody stools.
If acute diarrhea lasts 2 days or less, diagnostic tests are usually not necessary. If diarrhea lasts longer or is accompanied by symptoms such as fever or bloody stools, a doctor may perform tests to determine the cause.
Diagnostic tests to find the cause of diarrhea may include the following:
- edical history and physical examination. The doctor will ask about eating habits and medication use and will perform a physical examination to look for signs of illness.
- Stool culture. A sample of stool is analyzed in a laboratory to check for bacteria, parasites, or other signs of disease and infection.
- Blood tests. Blood tests can be helpful in ruling out certain diseases.
- Fasting tests. To find out if a food intolerance or allergy is causing the diarrhea, the doctor may ask a person to avoid foods with lactose, carbohydrates, wheat, or other ingredients to see whether the diarrhea responds to a change in diet.
- Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. These tests may be used to look for signs of intestinal diseases that cause chronic diarrhea. For sigmoidoscopy, the doctor uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a lens on the end to look at the inside of the rectum and lower part of the colon. Colonoscopy is similar to sigmoidoscopy, but it allows the doctor to view the entire colon.
Treatment will vary depending on the cause.