Acute diarrhea is classified as loose and watery stools that occur for fewer than 14 days. In addition to being inconvenient and uncomfortable, diarrhea can be a serious medical condition that leads to dehydration and weight loss. Extreme diarrhea may lead to organ failure and even death. Worldwide, 2.5 million people die from diarrhea-related complications each year, usually in third-world countries. It is important to remain well-hydrated during and after a bout of acute diarrhea. Supplementing with a high-quality probiotic can help replenish healthy intestinal flora. There are many potential causes of acute diarrhea.
Norovirus is generally spread from person to person via fecal-oral contact. This may occur when a person ingests contaminated food or touches their face after coming into contact with an infected person. In some cases, the virus may be transmitted through the air or contaminated surfaces. Norovirus is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis, which causes watery diarrhea. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, weakness, and fatigue. The best prevention is thorough and frequent handwashing.
Contaminated Drinking Water
Contaminated drinking water is a common culprit of acute diarrhea. This may happen when a person drinks water directly from a creek, river, or another body of water. One parasite commonly found in water is giardia. It lives in the intestines and causes violent diarrhea, painful cramping, and in some cases, nausea and vomiting. Most times, the giardia will leave the body naturally and the illness will resolve itself. Following the infection, however, patients often require treatment for dehydration.
Believe it or not, frequently reaching for a stick of chewing gum may result in acute diarrhea. Sorbitol was formulated for use as both an artificial sweetener and a laxative and is a common ingredient in chewing gum. Typically, the amount of sorbitol found in chewing gum is low and won’t produce a laxative effect. However, those who chew gum frequently may experience this adverse effect. Cutting back or switching to gum that is not sugar-free should resolve the problem.
Some medications, particularly antibiotics and those prescribed for acid reflux or heartburn, can cause acute diarrhea. Chemotherapy medications may also produce this side effect. Anyone experiencing diarrhea after starting a new medication should speak to their pharmacist or doctor. If diarrhea becomes severe, it may be best to explore other treatment options.
Stress and Anxiety
Many people experience loose and watery stool during particularly stressful events in their lives. Some may find the anxiety related to job interviews, public speaking, or other major events leaves them running to the toilet frequently, for days or even weeks prior. High-stress situations may also lead to acute diarrhea. The best homeopathic treatment for stress- or anxiety-related diarrhea is to take up a relaxing activity such as yoga or meditation.
Fructose, the natural sugar that occurs in fruits, can be difficult to digest. When fructose causes digestive problems, watery diarrhea, and intestinal cramping or bloating can result. Fruits skins such as apples, pears, and nectarines are also very high in fiber. If a person isn’t used to high fiber content, too much fruit can be a shock to the bowels, resulting in diarrhea. Reducing fruit intake or taking digestive enzymes can help ease diarrhea caused by fructose.
Lactose is found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. It is a natural sugar exclusive to dairy. Humans are born with enzymes that aid in the digestion of lactose. However, as a person ages, the enzyme depletes. This can result in adult-onset lactose intolerance. People who are lactose intolerant can opt for dairy-free products made with soy or nut milk, or may take digestive enzymes to aid in lactose digestion.
Pregnant women may experience acute diarrhea shortly before going into labor. Diarrhea in pregnancy is often a sign that the baby’s arrival is imminent and can be the body’s way of preparing for delivery. The process cleans out the bowels to make room for the baby to pass through the birth canal. Women may also experience diarrhea in the days or weeks following childbirth. Experts believe hormone fluctuations cause this side effect, or the body may be reacting to nine months of semi-constipation. Typically, postpartum diarrhea clears up fairly quickly without treatment.
Patients often experience acute diarrhea following abdominal or gastrointestinal surgery, as the body is adapting to changes in the GI tract or reacting to medications used during surgery. On the other hand, patients may also experience constipation after surgery and require laxatives, which can cause diarrhea. Either way, these post-surgery bowel issues usually clear up after several days.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
People plagued with frequent bouts of unexplained diarrhea would be wise to discuss IBS with their doctor. IBS can present with severe diarrhea which may or may not alternate with constipation. Severe intestinal cramping may also accompany diarrhea. Symptoms of IBS can be brought on by certain foods, though some people with IBS have undetermined symptoms. The best treatment for IBS is to avoid foods that trigger symptoms whenever possible. Taking a high-quality probiotic regularly may also provide some relief.