The term “Diarrhea” is many times misused. Patients jump to the conclusion they have diarrhea because their stool is not formed or when there is an increase in frequency. Actually, diarrhea is a symptom and not a disease. There are abundant diseases that are manifested as diarrhea.
99% of liquid ingested and secreted by your salivary glands: stomach, liver, and pancreas are absorbed by the digestive tract (intestines and colon). On average, this is 9-10 Liters of liquid a day. In addition, the small intestines can absorb 10-12L of fluid, and the colon can absorb 6-8L. If you are properly hydrated, that is a whopping 5 gallons of fluid a day.
Diarrhea occurs when there is a disruption in this process.
The specific causes of diarrhea are varied. However, here are a few of the most common reasons:
- Parasitic infection
- Bacterial or viral infection
- Bowel diseases
- Artificial sweeteners
Diarrhea from Parasitic Infections:
The two most common culprits are Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium. Typically this affects people with weakened immune systems, and these water-borne parasites can be encountered throughout the world. The infection can be pretty dramatic and tends to last for quite a while, and has been known to cause death to the untreated due to dehydration and electrolyte loss.
Diarrhea from Bacterial or Viral Infection:
Contaminated water is where you find parasites, but the bacteria also can get into our food from surfaces that are not clean. They can cause havoc on your digestion. Primarily the bacteria of most concern are salmonella and E. coli, which are found in food. Viruses’ culprits are rotavirus, viral gastroenteritis, and the norovirus, which are commonly lumped under the heading of “stomach flu,” which is no relation to influenza.
Diarrhea Caused by Bowel Disease:
When speaking of the digestive system, please note it is a very complex and delicate set of organs, and so many things can go wrong. Chrohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are the two most common intestinal diseases that result in gastric troubles, including diarrhea. Ulcerative Colitis also makes the list because there is no external cause for diarrhea; it relates to the function of your digestive system. Finally, Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a condition that can be classified on the bowel disease list or the allergy list because it is linked to an out-of-control reaction to your immune system.
Diarrhea Caused by Allergies:
We often describe bouts of watery stools as eating something that “doesn’t agree” with us. Unfortunately, this is a very accurate description. Many of us suffer from food allergies, and we do not even know it. It manifests itself in several ways, from bloating, abdominal pain, cramping including diarrhea. The most common food allergies are Gluten intolerance and the inability to digest dairy products. Lactose intolerance is due to a lack of lactase production in your intestines rather than a reaction of the immune system, so it is not a “true” allergy. On the other hand, Celiac disease is an allergic reaction, and this reaction is when the lining of your intestines becomes inflamed when you introduce gluten into your diet.
Diarrhea from Medication:
Violent bouts of diarrhea occur with some types of medications. Antibiotics and medicines used to treat acid reflux can cause loose bowels even if taken correctly. Treating constipation with drugs is ok once in a while, but the result is watery stools when you misuse it.
Diarrhea from Artificial Sweeteners:
This is not as common as the previously stated reasons for diarrhea. Most of us do not consume enough to cause a real problem. However, it is seen more in people who have diabetes and consume sweets that contain more significant amounts of artificial sweeteners. Food additives like sorbitol can lead to a condition known as osmotic diarrhea, where water is drawn into the intestines as your body attempts to metabolize the sweeteners in your food. Fructose is another sweetener that can cause malabsorption, which leads to higher water content in your stool.
What Causes Explosive Diarrhea?
This has and continues to be an unanswered question. Some believe that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the direct cause of explosive diarrhea. Others believe it has to do with a bile acid malabsorption called “postprandial diarrhea syndrome.”
When Should I Become Concerned About Diarrhea and Abnormal Stools?
- Diarrhea that continues for long periods
- Significant Pain
- Weight loss
- Fevers or chills
- Fatigue and weakness
- Stools that are white, black, or red
Loose stools could be a sign of several different serious health conditions, and therefore it is essential to report to your physician if you feel something is wrong or if the symptoms persist for days. If your primary doctor refers you to a specialist, you need to have the best in South Florida, Dr. Jeffrey Snow.
Here is a link to the American Cancer Society about Diarrhea
Dr. Jeffrey Snow has been a senior partner at Surgery Specialists of South Florida for 20 years and has spent his entire career practicing medicine in South Florida. Dr. Snow is a board-certified general and colorectal surgeon.
If you have any questions please call our office: (954) 237-1123