Nearly everyone has occasional “loose bowels” as a result of stress, food sensitivities or a relatively minor illness, and in those cases, symptoms typically resolve on their own. But is there a certain number or quality of bowel movements that gives it the name “diarrhea”? If you are experiencing watery stool, unformed stool, or even loose stool on a regular basis, these could all qualify as diarrhea. You might have this type of stool and have multiple bowel movements a day, or only one. When these symptoms occur on a regular basis, it is called chronic diarrhea.
When diarrhea is chronic, it can result in dehydration and metabolic imbalances – and it can also be a sign of a serious disease or condition. Young children and elderly patients should be seen more quickly since dehydration can set in more rapidly in these patients. It is therefore important to be evaluated for the cause of chronic diarrhea by a medical professional.
Diarrhea can have many causes; however, some primary causes include:
If you experience regular diarrhea, you should be evaluated for the presence of a digestive disorder or disease that could be causing these symptoms. During your evaluation, you'll be asked about your symptoms, how often they occur, and if they're accompanied by pain or other symptoms. You'll also be asked to provide a medical history to look for clues. It is important to mention any unusual foods you may have consumed as well as medications or supplements you are taking, as these can often cause diarrhea. If you've traveled recently, be sure to mention that in your exam, because some destinations may be associated with diseases or infections that can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. This will usually be followed by a physical exam and bloodwork. Further testing depends heavily on the severity, nature, and duration of the condition.
There are a number of different stool tests available to rule out parasites and other infections. Imaging such as x-ray, ultrasound, or CT can be useful. If warranted, a colonoscopy can be performed to look for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and rule out colorectal cancer. A pillcam capsule endoscopy is sometimes preformed to further rule out crohn’s, as this procedure can visualize parts of the small bowel unseen on a colonoscopy. Allergy testing is available for suspected food sensitivities and intolerances.
Treatment depends on the cause of the diarrhea. Diet modification may be helpful for food sensitivities or intolerances. Antibiotics may be recommended for bacterial infection, traveller’s diarrhea, or SIBO. If the problem is due to a medication of chemical laxative, avoidance is recommended if possible. Over-the-counter or prescription antidiarrheal medication is often used for those with severe diarrhea.
Here is a list of just some of the plans we accept, please contact our office if you have any questions.
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