Diarrhoea is a Pain in the Gut!

What Is Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea, the frequent passage of watery stools, is a symptom, not a disease.

Diarrhoea may be either acute or chronic.  Acute diarrhoea takes the form of an isolated incident, caused by a temporary problem, usually an infection that lasts three to seven days.  Chronic diarrhoea is much more complex with a multitude of causes and can last for months or even years.

What Are the Causes of Diarrhoea

The causes of diarrhoea are many and varied.  Basically the condition stems from intestianal irritation or increased motility (muscular action) in the intestinal tract.  These can be brought on by a wide  variety of causes including:

  • Poor digestion
  • Drug use - NSAIDS, some antibiotics, aspirin
  • Food poisoning
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excessive caffeine consumption
  • Medication
  • Laxative use
  • Sugar intolerance
  • Overuse of sweetners
  • Infections: bacterial, viral, fungal (including candida) and parasitic
  • Pancreatic insufficiency
  • Emotional Stress
  • Coleiac disease
  • IBD
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Short bowel syndrome
  • Inadequate bowel secretion (possibly post gallbladder removal)
  • Malnutrition
  • Heavy Metal Poisoning
  • Neurological Diseases
  • Metabolic disease (Hyperthyroidism)
  • Feacal Impaction 


Acute Diarrhoea

Acute diarrhoea is often caused by infection (most often viral) or food poisoning.  Such food-borne illnesses include:

  • Salmonella
  • E.coli
  • Botulism
  • Staphylococcus

Bacteria like salmonella and e-coli give off toxins which stick to the intestinal wall and can lead to profuse secretion of fluids which causes the diarrhoea.

Parasites also often cause diarrhoea.  Parasites like Giardia Lamblia, Entamoeba, Hystoliticxa and Cryptosporidium  interfere with digestion, can cause damage to the intestines  and usually cause diarrhoea.  People with low stomach acid are more susceptible to parasitic infections.  Low stomach acid is much more common than high stomach acid.

Diarrhoea caused by bacteria or parasites is most common following trips to long haul destinations but you can pick up parasitic and bacterial infections in this country too. 

Antibiotic use results in a type of diarrhoea caused by clostridium difficile (or C Diff as it is often known).  This bactrerium, which is common is hospitals, gives off a toxin  that damages the lining of the colon and causes severe diarrhoea  as well as lower abdominal cramps  and fever.  If untreated C. Diff can lead to intestinal perforation.

I have noticed that many cases of food sensitivity or allergy arise after someone has had either a bacterial or parasitic infection.  When a food allergen is ingested  histamine and other allergic compounds from white blood cells  in the intestinal lining are released.  These can have a strong laxative effect.

Acute diarrhoea can become chronic diarrhoea.

Chronic Diarrhoea

Chronic diarrhoea is often owing to bowel disease  or food sensitivities (and possibly the food sensitivities cause the bowel disease?).  With chronic diarrhoea the body is not absorbing all the nutrients from food and malnourishment results. Lack of certain nutrients such as B vitamins lead to diarrhoea and diarrhoea leads to disruption of bowel bacteria which in turn leads to depletion of nutrients, particularly b vitamins.

Who Gets It?

Anyone can get diarrhoea.  When it affects the very old or the very young then it is a serious condition.  Worldwide, diarrhoea is the leading cause of death amongst children.

What Are the Symptoms of Diarrhoea?
  • Urgency
  • Watery stools
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Blood and mucous in stools
  • Rectal soreness
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • "Grumbling" from the abdomen
  • Increased thirst 

Standard Medical Treatment for Diarrhoea

Of late, it seems that the standard medical treatment for diarrhoea is repeat prescriptions of Immodium.  Now Immodium is a great product for short-term use but I am sure it is not intended for long-term use.  If your body is needing to get rid of waste from your body really quickly then you need to find out why.  If you have had diarrhoea for more than a couple of weeks keep going back to your GP until you get them to run some tests.

A stool test can be used to test for pus which will help with the identification of such pathogens  as salmonella, campylobacter etc  If symptoms are severe then the stool will be cultivated to identify any abnormal bacteria so that appropriate antibiotics can be prescribed.

Parasites:  In my experience you will have a real struggle to get doctors to test for parasites although they are slightly more likely to do so if you have recently travelled abroad.  I do however constantly encounter parasites when doing colonics and they are much more common than doctors would have us believe.

Malabsorption: Your doctor can do a stool test to detect the presence of fat which will identify malabsorption problems which can be caused by disease in the small intestine.  A hydrogen breath test can be performed to test small bowel overgrowth.  A small biopsy may also be ordered.  If the biopsy is negative then a colonoscopy or endoscopy may be recommended to rule out Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.



What is the Alternative Approach to Dealing with Diarrhoea?

Acute Diarrhoea:  With acute diarrhoea it is best to let the condition run its course for at least a couple of days.  Resist the urge to reach for the Immodium.  Your body needs to purge whatever is causing the problem.

 Diet for Acute Diarrhoea:  For a couple of days, stop eating solid food.  Drink lots of water.  Also consume consomme, broth, herbal teas, green drinks (Super Greens or Hemp Protein).  Sports drinks can help with restoring the electrolyte balance or buy rehydration salts from the chemist.  Avoid  dairy, sugar, greasy foods and anything highly seasoned or spicy. 

Supplements Which May Help Acute Diarrhoea

Medicinal Charcoal:  One of my favourite remedies, natural, old fashioned and absolutely does what it says.  Helps absorb toxins from the digestive tract.  Do not take charcoal at the same time as medication or other supplements.

Probiotics: The balance of bacteria in your bowel will be disrupted by diarrhoea so best to replenish it now. 

Fibre Supplement:  Go Daily can be especially helpful wity diarrhoea break outs.  The psyllium absorbs the excess fluid and makes the stools less watery and more formed.  It also helps to cleanse the bowel of toxins.  It also contains digestive enzymes which are helpful in alleviating diarrhoes, L-glutamine which soothes and regenerates (both bowel and brain!), probiotics to re-establish good bacteria and prebiotics to support the colonisation of good bacteria.

Tactics for Coping with Chronic Diarrhoea

First step is to rule out:

  • Food sensitivities/allergies
  • Parasitic infection
  • Candida
  • Coeliac disease
  • Crohns or Ulcerative Colitis
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Low Stomach acid

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