What is Diarrhea?

The human body is a complex structure containing numerous organ systems working together to keep life going. Still, if any of those organs cease functioning temporarily or permanently, it will lead to an awful condition. The food we eat goes from mouth to stomach and is converted into a thick, creamy liquid chyme. The chyme, which contains degraded food particles, enters into long hollow tubes in the intestines, and then further absorption of food and water occurs according to our body’s needs. In the large intestine, food waste is temporarily stored and then expelled as feces. If a person excretes watery feces and loses a significant volume of water, then it means he is experiencing diarrhea.

Fig 1: A person affected by diarrhea

A person with diarrhea abnormally passes loose, semisolid or fluid stools for at least two weeks. This is known as acute diarrhea or acute watery diarrhea (AWD). Severe dehydration results from diarrhea as excess water, essential electrolytes, and feces are frequently discharged from the body. Essential electrolytes include sodium, potassium and magnesium. These electrolytes are crucial in transferring nerve impulses and muscle movements and regulating pH levels in the body. Kidney failure and water level imbalances result if severe dehydration occurs.

Generally, diarrhea does not have fatal consequences, and it gets better by following the proper regime. However, it can get worse and eventually cause death if the proper amount of fluid intake is not maintained during infection.

Usually, diarrhea is cured within a few days. However, if it continues for longer, it may be due to another underlying illness, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Causes of Diarrhea

Here are the leading causes of this disease:


Infections by viruses, bacteria and other substances are the reason behind this. However, the most common cause of diarrhea in children is the Rotavirus. Viral diarrhea in adults includes several Norovirus species, Astroviruses, and Adenovirus.


Certain bacteria, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, and Escherichia coli, can also cause diarrhea. Bloody diarrhea, most common in the United States, is caused by a toxin known as Shiga toxin, produced by Escherichia coli.


Certain parasites, such as Entamoeba histolytica, Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and Blastocystis species, are also found to be the causative agent of diarrhea. Diarrhea, which is caused by microscopic pathogens, is called infectious diarrhea.

Improper sanitation

Apart from pathogens, improper sanitation systems can also cause a shortage of clean water as feces are disposed of into streams and other groundwater bodies, leading to severe contamination of drinking water. 


Malnutrition, such as zinc deficiency, is reported to cause several episodes of diarrhea in children dwelling in underdeveloped and developing countries. Other complexities like malabsorption were also found to be the “causative reason” behind diarrhea. 

Risk factors of diarrhea

  • Every person who may be an adult, child or a person suffering from a specific illness is at risk of catching this illness. Other diseases and conditions like gluten allergy, lactose intolerance, bile acid or bile salt malabsorption, hyperthyroidism, drinking alcohol for more extended periods, excess of hormones like serotonin, microscopic colitis, and radiation therapy are also the reasons behind this.
  • Certain medicines, like penicillin, laxatives, antacids, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs, are also reported to induce the loss of large quantities of water and stools from the body.

Symptoms of Diarrhea

Symptoms include abdominal bloating and pain, nausea, urgent need to go to the toilet, fever of 38 degree Celsius, weight loss, dark color of urine, headaches and faster heartbeat, watery or bloody stools, dizziness, droopy eyes, and dry skin and mouth.

Symptoms of diarrhea in children include fewer than six diapers in a day, no wet dipper, no tears when crying, nausea, vomiting, headache, and flushed skin.

Figure 2: Symptoms of Diarrhea

Types of Diarrhea

  • Acute diarrhea is short-term diarrhea caused by the consumption of water contaminated with viruses, bacteria or protozoa. Infectious diarrhea lasts a few days and improves with proper fluid intake and medicine.
  • Chronic or persistent diarrhea lasts for a more extended period of time, almost several weeks, and several conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disease cause it. Certain parasites can also be the reason behind chronic diarrhea.

Transmission of Diarrhea

Diarrhea that spreads through microbial infections is most common and responsible for children’s death in developing countries. Pathogens causing infectious diarrhea follow the faecal-oral route. It spreads due to poor sanitation and contamination of drinking water with infected feces.

Diagnosis of Diarrhea

If you are experiencing diarrhea, visit your doctor. He will first take an oral test, which means he will ask about your travelling history and medical history, whether you are already taking medicine or not. As there are numerous causes of diarrhea, so a doctor will take some tests to find the exact reason behind diarrheal infections. These tests may include:

Stool test

A stool test is approached to detect the infectious pathogen causing infectious diarrhea. A stool sample is taken in a sterile bag or bottle. It is then cultured on the mediums, and the results are analyzed.

Blood test

Blood samples are collected and then tested for various conditions, like anemia, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiency, and electrolyte levels.

Imaging tests

MRI or CT scan is used to observe any structural problems within organs.

With these tests, any food allergy or food intolerance, like lactose and gluten intolerance, can be easily detected. A fasting test helps to change the diet to cease diarrheal episodes.

A colonoscope is a thin, flexible tube inserted in the rectum to detect structural abnormalities in the large intestine, such as tumors, ulcers, and sores.

A flexible tube known as a sigmoidoscope, when inserted in the large intestine, causes it to swell by blowing air into it, making it easier to observe the lining of the large intestine. 

Treatment of Diarrhea

Treatment depends upon correctly diagnosing the actual cause of diarrhea. There are various remedies for treating diarrhea according to the exact cause.


  • Antidiarrheal agents, including antibiotics such as metronidazole, commonly known as Flagyl, are approached if bacteria or protozoa cause diarrhea. However, bacteria, such as Shigella, are continuously evolving and becoming resistant to antibiotics. 
  • Apart from antibiotics, Pepto-Bismol, Racecadotril, Loperamide, and Diosmectite are a few antidiarrheal agents used if diarrhea is caused by abnormal bile acid absorption, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Probiotics and other supplements

Probiotics are supplements with bacteria that promote good intestine health and are helpful in combating diarrheal illnesses.

  • Probiotic lactobacillus is reported to mitigate the symptoms of acute diarrhea. Intake of lactase is also a supportive approach to resolving the illnesses.
  • It is an enzyme that is helpful for people suffering from diarrhea due to lactose intolerance.
  • Symptoms of diarrhea caused by zinc deficiency can also be alleviated by taking zinc supplements.


As diarrhea is associated with the loss of a considerable volume of fluids along with stools, taking a necessary quantity of fluids is beneficial in relieving the symptoms of diarrhea. Oral rehydration solution (ORS) is sweet and salty water that helps restore the fluid volume in the body. ORS can be made at home by mixing 3 grams of salt and 18 grams of sugar in one liter of water.


Consuming fiber-rich foods helps keep good health during diarrheal infection. Patients should abstain from eating fatty or fried foods and stick to the BRAT diet. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast diet, and it is strongly recommended for diarrheal patients.

Preventive measures

Vaccinating yourself against Rotavirus, especially children, is helpful in preventing diarrheal infections. Three doses of RotaTeq are given to children at 2, 4 and 6 months. At the same time, two doses of Rotarix vaccines are administered to children at the ages of 2 and 4 months. The COVID-19 vaccine also prevents diarrhea.

  • Maintain hygiene by washing hands after or before using washrooms and public toilets, cooking and eating, and using alcoholic sanitizers.
  • Storing food at the right temperature and place is also effectively restricting the growth of pathogens that cause diarrhea.
  • Always be careful with what you drink and eat. Drink plenty of boiled water as it is free of all germs that cause infections. Eat properly cooked meat and properly washed fruits.
  • Always try to consume pasteurized milk.
  • Be careful when eating while travelling, don’t eat raw foods, and avoid consuming ice or tap water.
  • Do not eat from street vendors or trucks.

Complications of Diarrhea

If your diarrhea is not treated, it could lead to severe dehydration, which can cause organ damage, shock, unconsciousness and even coma.

Final Thoughts

A common digestive disease which leads to frequent bowel movements. Oral rehydration therapy can bring relief of diarrhea. WHO reports that, on average, almost 1.7 billion childhood diarrheal patients have been examined. This disease dates back to ancient times, but medical knowledge and treatment options changed in the 20th century. 

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

How do you make diarrhea go away?

In order to treat diarrhea, you must try to eat bland foods, probiotic-rich foods or supplements.

What are the types of diarrheas?

There are four categories of diarrhea, which includes: osmotic, secretory, exudative and transit diarrhea.

Which food could lead to diarrhea?

Fatty foods and fried and greasy food could lead your intestine to a dehydration disease known as diarrhea.

About the author


  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4108-diarrhea
  2. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea/symptoms-causes
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/diarrhea
  4. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/diarrhea#:~:text=points%20about%20diarrhea-,Diarrhea%20is%20when%20your%20stools%20are%20loose%20and%20watery.,chronic)%20diarrhea%20lasts%20several%20weeks.
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