Diarrhea means loose stools, liquid stools. It may be mild or severe, with the duration running from days to weeks. It all depends on the cause.
Apart from the watery bowel movements, other symptoms may include:
- The urgency to visit the loo
- Frequent passing of stools (no less than three times per day)
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Inability to control bowel movements
The patient may also experience dizziness, fever, or vomiting. These symptoms manifest when the condition is caused by an infection.
If your stools are watery, you may be wondering how long diarrhea will last. Let us examine the typical duration of diarrhea, together with its home remedies, and symptoms that indicate you should see your doctor.
How long does diarrhea last?
There are two types – acute and chronic.
Acute diarrhea is short-term. It lasts for a day or two. In some cases, it may last up to two weeks. Acute diarrhea is usually mild and often resolves on its own.
Chronic diarrhea lasts for at least a month. The symptoms fluctuate, but it could indicate a serious condition.
Causes of diarrhea
Several factors may contribute to the onset of diarrhea. The symptoms, as well as the duration, depends on the cause.
Acute diarrhea may be due to:
- Stomach flu
- Bacterial infection
- Food allergy
- Allergy to medications (like antibiotics)
- Stomach surgery
- Food intolerance, such as lactose or fructose intolerance
- Traveler’s diarrhea, usually caused by bacteria
Norovirus is the commonest cause of acute diarrhea in adults.
Common causes of chronic diarrhea include:
- An inflammatory bowel disease, like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Parasitic infection
- Celiac disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Gallbladder removal
- Medications for heartburn (such as protein pump inhibitors)
Diarrhea before a colonoscopy
You may also experience this condition while preparing for a colonoscopy. Because colonoscopy involves emptying your colon, you’ll have to take a strong laxative beforehand to flush every stool out of your colon. You’ll receive a prescription laxative so you can start taking a day before your colonoscopy.
The kind of laxative prescribed by your doctor is so designed to trigger diarrhea without draining your body fluids. With this, you’re safe from dehydration.
After taking the laxative, you will experience a few hours of forceful diarrhea as your colon evacuates the stool from your colon. You may also experience nausea, abdominal cramps, or bloating.
You will be relieved of your condition shortly before you’re due for the colonoscopy. Gassing and abdominal discomfort is common after a colonoscopy, with your bowel movements returning to normal within 24-48 hours.
If you are worried about diarrhea while prepping for a colonoscopy, consult your doctor on how to ease the process.
Home remedies for diarrhea
Most cases can be treated at home. The following tips can help if you have acute diarrhea:
- Drink enough water: Dehydration is one of the complications. So, you should drink as much water as you can. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and dairy which may complicate your symptoms.
- Drink fluid with electrolytes: Diarrhea causes loss of electrolytes in the body. You may sip on coconut water, sports drinks, or salty broth. It will help restore your electrolyte levels.
- Avoid heavily-flavored foods: Highly seasoned, sweet, and spicy foods can worsen the situation. So, you should limit your intake of fatty and fiber-rich foods until the diarrhea’s cleared up.
- The BRAT diet helps: Foods that make up the BRAT diet include toast, applesauce, rice, and bananas. These foods, bland and starchy as they may be, are gentle on your tummy.
- Antidiarrheal medications: OTC medications like bismuth subsalicylate and loperamide can relieve you of your symptoms. But on the other hand, these medications can worsen viral or bacterial infections, so you must get your doctor’s consent before taking the drugs.
- Probiotics are great: Probiotics are the good bacteria that maintenance of your gut’s flora. Probiotic supplements speed up recovery in mild cases of diarrhea.
- Herbal remedies: If you experience nausea alongside your condition, try peppermint and ginger.
Time for medical care
The symptoms start to improve after two days. If it persists, or you observe the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:
- Symptoms of dehydration such as:
- Very little urine
- Dark urine
- Abdominal cramps
- Rectal pain
- Bloody stools, usually black
- Fever that’s above 102°F (39°C)
- Frequent vomiting
These symptoms may be an indication of a severe underlying condition.
Medical treatment is necessary if the condition doesn’t resolve with OTC medication. Possible treatments may include:
- IV fluids
- Other medications (usually prescribed by a gastroenterologist).