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Diarrhea indicates abnormally increased frequency of bowel movements and looseness of stools. Healthy individuals experience two-three bowel movements per day. More than three bowel movements can be called diarrhea. Liquid stools indicate dysfunction of the digestive system. Having loose stools without experiencing an increase in the frequency of bowel movements is also considered as diarrhea. Diarrhea, lasting from a few days up to a week, is called acute diarrhea and that which lasts for more than three weeks is called chronic diarrhea.

Impact of Diarrhea on Overall Health
  • Dehydration, wherein excessive loss of body fluids and minerals (electrolytes) is experienced during diarrhea. Far more than normal amount of fluid is expelled by the body, which eventually results in dehydration. Those suffering from the disorder are expected to replenish the body fluids by drinking maximum amount of water or clear soups. Too much loss of body fluid due to over-excretion can affect the functions of the bodily systems.
  • Severe diarrhea can affect the health of the heart. So, you should see your physician immediately and report the symptoms. Prompt and correct treatment can help prevent serious health complications.
  • Dehydration can lead to orthostatic hypotension wherein fainting upon standing is experienced. It occurs as the volume of blood gets reduced. Low volume of blood causes a drop in blood pressure levels upon standing.
  • In case of prolonged diarrhea, body loses the electrolytes along with water. Mineral deficiencies, especially sodium or potassium deficiencies can lead to life-threatening health complications.
  • In infants and young children, loose stools can lead to several health complications. Diarrhea can even affect the function of the brain, if not promptly treated. Usually, infants quickly become dehydrated.
  • Effects of diarrhea on health include excessive thirst and dry mouth. Drinking lots of water helps avoid further health complications.
  • Moderate to severe abdominal pain or tenderness is quite common for the patients. Stomach pain and diarrhea go hand in hand.
  • Loose motions are experienced as a side effect of certain drugs and medicines. As a result, effectiveness of the drugs or medicines is lessened.
  • Acute diarrhea in pregnant woman can affect the health of the fetus. So, pregnant women should take extra care to maintain bowel health.
  • Irritation of the anus (due to the frequent passage of watery stools) can be experienced.
  • The person experiences loss of energy and weakness. Chronic diarrhea can lead to excessive fatigue.
  • The patient may suffer from nausea and vomiting.
  • Abnormal levels of chloride and bicarbonate can be experienced.
  • Prolonged and severe diarrhea can lead to kidney failure, diminished urine output, shock, and acidosis (too much of acid in the blood). And if not promptly treated, it can eventually lead to coma.
Causes of Diarrhea

Dysfunction of the digestive system usually leads to increased water in the stools which results in looseness of stools. Irritable bowel syndrome, overgrowth of bacteria in the intestine, chronic infectious diseases, endocrine diseases, cancer, etc., can lead to prolonged diarrhea.
  • The amount of water in the stools increases due to increased secretion of fluids by the stomach and / or small intestine.
  • Diarrhea sets in when removal of water from the food is not done by the intestine or colon, as the undigested liquid food (chyme) passes too quickly through them.
  • Diarrhea can occur when small intestine and colon do not absorb enough water.
Any of the following situations can cause diarrhea.
  • Viral, bacterial and parasitic infections.
  • Inflammation of the lining of the small intestine leads to increased secretion of the fluids, resulting in loose stools. Inflammation can reduce the time available for the absorption of water from the chyme.
  • Starting a new medication, especially antibiotics, chemotherapy medication, medication to control high blood pressure or irregular heart beats, etc.
  • Other diseases like collagenous colitis can affect the ability of the colon to absorb water.
  • Bacteria can cause acute food poisoning, resulting in loose stools. Toxins or chemicals stimulate the lining to secrete extra fluid.
  • As a side effect of diseases like cancer, liver diseases, etc.
  • Laxative abuse while following weight loss diets can lead to chronic diarrhea.
  • Excessive intake of herbal or any other type of medicines, dietary supplements.
Consuming oral re-hydration solutions containing glucose and electrolytes, and drinking adequate water helps prevent dehydration. This is a good home remedy for loose stools. Absorbents which bind water in the small intestine and the colon help avoid adverse effects of diarrhea. Antimotility medication which promote relaxation of the muscles of the small intestine and colon, and bismuth compounds work great for diarrhea. But these medicines should be taken after consultation with your physician. The two main absorbents, attapulgite and polycarbophil, are available as over-the-counter medication. But when your bodily systems are not working properly, you should consult your physician before taking medicines.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.