Ever experienced rushing to the washroom frequently with loose motion urges? You may be experiencing a bout of diarrhoea which is a bowel condition of frequent loose motions than normal. It is quite a common problem with nothing major to worry about till normalcy sets in a few days to a week. It is however, hugely draining and leaves the patient quite distraught.
This bowel infection also known as gastroenteritis can be caused by the rotavirus, the E.coli bacteria or the giardiasis parasite during travel, use of public toilets, contaminated water and food. Often, diarrhoea is the result of stress, a food allergy, medication, food poisoning,an irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), excessive alcohol, appendicitis, a surgery or some damage to the intestinal lining due to radiotherapy.
Classical symptoms include stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, headache and loss of appetite. Frequent loose motions also mean loss of body fluids which can leave the patient dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include feeling sick, tired, dizzy, light-headed, nauseous and drowsy, low and infrequent urine output, pale and dry skin, cold limbs, dry tongue, sunken eyes, loss of appetite, body cramps and rapid heartbeat.
Seek medical advice immediately if diarrhoea persists beyond 24 hours and there are signs of dehydration, higher frequency of loose motions, vomiting and blood in the stool. Doctors may ask for stool and blood samples to check for hidden infections and health condition which will determine the course of treatment. In more serious cases, doctors may ask a digital rectal examination (DRE) and procedures like sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy to examine the rectum and the entire bowel.
Diarrhoea usually clears up without treatment in a few days to a week. In the meanwhile, the patient should take plenty of fluids with some salt and sugar to repair the dehydration till the urine clears up. Any fruit juice or aerated drink should be strictly avoided. Besides antidiarrhoeal medicions, doctors may prescribe Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) for serious cases of dehydration and painkillers in case of an accompanying fever or headache. Eating light smaller meals or healthy soups is the key with little spice and fats. Antibiotics are usually not recommended unless severe. Some studies reveal certain probiotics found in yoghurt and food supplements reduce chances of diarrhoea.
Preventing diarrhoea from spreading is crucial and that is dependent on good hygiene practices of –
- Washing hands properly with a disinfectant soap before and after using a toilet, before preparing and eating food.
- Cleaning the toilet properly, including handle and seat with a disinfectant phenyl during and after a bout of diarrhoea.
- No sharing of towels, flannels, toiletries, cutlery and utensils of infected patients.
- Wash soiled and used clothing of patients separately using a disinfectant.
- Patients should rest and recover for a minimum of 48 hours before going back to school or work and avoid any strenuous activity like swimming for a minimum of 2 weeks.
- Patients should eat fresh cooked meals and consume fruits and vegetables that are peeled and served in front of you.
- Food hygiene should be maintained to avoid diarrhoea due to food poisoning– in preparation, storage and refrigeration.
- Drinking water needs to be boiled.
- Avoid fruits and vegetables with damaged peels or in salad form as much as unpasteurised dairy and poultry products especially cheese and raw eggs and mayonnaise.
- Children under the age of 5 should take the rotavirus vaccine.
Diarrhoea is not a life-threatening condition. A few simple precautions go a long way in keeping it at bay.