Diarrhoea in adults
Diarrhoea is a common problem in adults that occurs from time to time due to a variety of causes. The average person experiences diarrhoea about once a year. While inconvenient and sometimes unpleasant, it usually resolves on its own. Diarrhoea that lasts for more than a few days, however, may lead to dehydration and be a symptom of a more serious problem.What are probiotics?
What is diarrhoea?
Diarrhoea is characterised by loose stools that occur three or more times a day. Watery stools occur when the bowel does not absorb enough water from wastes or when the body secretes too much water into the bowel. Alternatively, diarrhoea can be fatty if the body is having difficulty digesting fats, or ‘inflammatory’ if it contains blood and pus.
Diarrhoea is further characterized by the length of symptoms. Acute diarrhoea comes on suddenly and lasts less than two weeks, while persistent diarrhoea last two to four weeks and chronic diarrhoea continues for more than one month. Depending on the cause, additional symptoms can accompany diarrhoea, including abdominal pain and cramps, fever, bloating and nausea.The importance of gut bacteria
Causes of acute diarrhoea
- Viruses, most commonly norovirus
- Bacteria, especially Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella and E. coli.
- Protozoal parasites, including Giardia
- Medications, especially antibiotics, anticancer drugs and antacids containing magnesium
- Food intolerance or allergies, such as lactose in milk and dairy products, fructose in fruits and sweetened beverages, and artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Feelings of anxiety
Causes of persistent diarrhoea
- Protozoal parasites
Causes of chronic diarrhoea
- Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome)
- Celiac disease
- A chronic infection
- Inability to absorb dietary fats
Who is at risk of diarrhoea?
Older individuals and people with a compromised immune system, whether from disease or certain medications, are more susceptible to diarrhoea.
Adults commonly experience traveller’s diarrhoea when they visit regions with poor sanitation and come into contact with viruses, bacteria or parasites that cause diarrhoea.
Many people experience diarrhoea while taking antibiotics. Furthermore, patients who undergo antibiotic therapy while staying in a hospital are at risk of C. difficile–associated diarrhoea, caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile. This potentially deadly organism takes advantage of the disturbance in the gut microbiota to colonise the colon. C. difficile most frequently infects older individuals in long-term care facilities but can also cause severe infections in young, healthy people as well.
When to seek medical help
Typically, diarrhoea is short-lived in adults, lasting just a few days to a week. But if the diarrhoea has persisted for several days or is accompanied by other serious symptoms, then consult a doctor. For example, if stools are excessively watery, bloody or black, or are accompanied by persistent vomiting, a high fever or a severe or constant stomach ache, then seek medical help. Bloody diarrhoea may indicate a bacterial infection or an inflammatory condition, while black stools may be a sign of bleeding in the stomach.
Diarrhoea may lead to dehydration, which can be life-threatening in older adults and immune-compromised individuals. Seek medical help if an adult has signs of severe dehydration, such as excessive thirst, dark-coloured or no urine, fatigue or dizziness.
How to diagnose the cause of diarrhoea
To diagnose the cause, a doctor will likely ask about the frequency and consistency of bowel movements, current medications, recent travel and food consumed, as well as contact with other sick individuals. Blood or stool samples may also be collected to test for the presence of pathogens or underlying digestive health conditions. Flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy allows doctors to examine the bowel from the inside and take biopsies for examination of the tissues.
Depending on the cause of the diarrhoea, doctors may recommend fluids and electrolytes, over-the-counter medications, antibiotics to treat bacterial or parasite infections or probiotics to encourage a healthy gut microbiota.
The role of bacteria in diarrhoea
In some cases, diarrhoea can signal that our gut bacteria are disturbed and out of balance, which is a condition called dysbiosis. This often occurs with the use of antibiotics, because they kill the good bacteria as well as the harmful ones, but can also be caused by various pathogens. Multiple studies have shown that certain probiotics can reduce the severity of diarrhoea caused by antibiotic use and from viral and bacterial infections.
What is constipation?
Constipation is a common gut problem, with reports that as high as 25% of the world’s population suffer from this persistent, and often socially restrictive, affliction.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are good bacteria that are found in food or supplements. The definition is ”Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” (WHO/FAO, 2002)
BioGaia's probiotics products?
Our products are sold through around 80 local distribution partners in 100 countries around the world.