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Diarrhea is defined as loose bowel movements with or without vomiting. Acute diarrhea is usually sudden in onset and lasts for only a limited time. This is usually called gastroenteritis and is caused by several pathogens leading to infection of the gastrointestinal tract.
The pathogens causing acute diarrhea may include several bacteria, viruses, or parasites. There are several non-infectious causes of acute diarrhea as well but these are usually less common.
Acute diarrhea usually stops in a few days to a week but carries the risk of dehydration especially in children and the elderly.
In case of identification of the causative pathogen, an antibiotic or an anti-parasitic agent may be used. If the cause is a virus, the antibiotics are not effective.
Acute diarrhea usually begins suddenly. The bowel motions are loose and frequent. In children and babies the motions may be involuntary as well.
Viral diarrhoeas are usually watery in nature with little or no fecal matter. In some forms of acute diarrhea there may be presence of blood in the stools. This may be more common if bacteria are the cause of acute diarrhea.
There may be accompanying vomiting along with diarrhea. Other symptoms may include abdominal cramps and fever. Fever is commonly seen in bacterial and viral diarrhoeas.
There are many possible causes of gastroenteritis. The most common causes include:
The main and most important complication of diarrhea is dehydration. Diarrhea leads to loss of water and essential electrolytes and chemicals from the body. Vomiting also leads to water and electrolyte loss.
Dehydration is more common and deteriorates rapidly especially in children and infants.
Diarrhea due to infections can be prevented by maintaining good hygiene, hand washing before eating, and preparing foods and after using the toilet.
If the cause of the diarrhea is detected, and it is due to bacteria or parasites, agents useful against these pathogens may be used.
Dehydration should be prevented in all cases by ensuring adequate fluid intake. Special solutions, such as Pedialyte may be used to replace lost body fluids as well as electrolytes.