What is acute diarrhea in adults?
Acute diarrhea is a sudden deviation from the normal stool pattern. The feces are mushy to watery and you lose more and more frequent faeces than usual. If it lasts longer than two weeks, we speak of chronic diarrhea. Acute diarrhea usually resolves within 4 to 7 days.
Symptoms of acute diarrhea in adults
With acute diarrhea you have more frequent and thinner stools than normal. You often feel bad and may suffer from stomach cramps, especially before you go to the toilet. You may have a fever and suffer from nausea and vomiting. You sometimes see blood or mucus in the stool. If you recognize these symptoms in yourself then it is likely that you suffer from acute diarrhea.
How does acute diarrhea occur in adults?
Acute diarrhea is in most cases caused by infection in the intestines. This infection is the result of an infection with a bacterium, a virus or a protozoa. You receive these pathogens through:
- Food This usually concerns meat, fish or crustaceans that have not been stored well or for too long or were not cooked through and through; it can also come from vegetables or fruit that is not properly washed.
- Contaminated water
- Contact with the stool or saliva of someone who has diarrhea
The chance of infection is greater during a stay in the (sub) tropics. This is due to poorer hygienic conditions.
The infection affects (temporarily) the intestinal wall, so that it no longer functions properly. This influences the absorption of moisture in the intestinal wall. An important function of the intestines is to extract moisture from the passing food (thickening of the stools). This function is disturbed in the case of diarrhea: less moisture is extracted from the food. Moreover, the inflamed intestinal wall itself loses moisture. The food will also go through the intestine faster than normal. The most common causes of diarrhea in adults are viruses.
Is it serious and what can you expect?
Acute diarrhea almost always goes away by itself and is therefore not a serious condition. After 10 days, 90 percent is complaint-free. It usually takes no longer than two to four days. A virus infection is usually mild and is over after 4 to 7 days. A bacterial infection is more severe. You will become acutely ill within 1 to 7 days after taking the contaminated food, with watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever. After a few days you can find blood and mucus in the stool.
Due to the diarrhea you lose more fluid than normal. It is therefore very important that you drink more than you usually do, especially if you suffer from vomiting. Research has shown that, even if you vomit, moisture is always absorbed. By drinking you can prevent you from drying out. Dehydration is the main risk that a person with acute diarrhea is exposed. You can just eat.
When to the doctor?
There are disorders that are associated with diarrhea and that, unlike acute diarrhea, do need to be treated. Therefore, in case of doubt, it is wise to contact your family doctor. Furthermore, it is advisable to contact your general practice if:
- You have continuous abdominal pain
- You often have water-thin diarrhea for more than 3 days
- You have diarrhea and a 3-day fever
- You are 70 years of age or older and very often have water-thin diarrhea for more than 1 day / you are 70 years or older and have diarrhea and a fever for more than 1 day
- You have diarrhea and keep vomiting every time you drink something. In that case you have an increased risk of dehydration. The amount of fluid in your body can become too small and this can have serious consequences
- You have blood or mucus with the stool. This is particularly common with a bacterial bowel infection and may not be a serious symptom, but it may also indicate a condition other than acute diarrhea
- You have the feeling that you are going to faint or if you feel drowsy or confused. These are signs that may indicate that you are dehydrated
- You have not urinated for 24 hours. There is a good chance that you are dehydrated. Contact your doctor as soon as possible
- You use medication. Some medicines are less well absorbed by the intestines if you have diarrhea. These drugs will then be less effective and a dose adjustment may be needed. Note: The contraceptive pill is also less reliable if you have diarrhea. Other medicines that you use can cause diarrhea. A course of antibiotics can cause diarrhea as a side effect. Some painkillers, some of which are freely available, can also cause diarrhea. If you contact your doctor, it is therefore important that you state the possible use of products you have purchased yourself. There are also medicines, especially water tablets, which increase the chance of dehydration
- You suffer from diabetes mellitus. Diarrhea can severely disrupt your diabetes. Because if you feel bad, you may eat and drink differently than normal. You run an increased risk of dehydration
- You work in an environment with a risk of contagion for others. For example in a restaurant or snack bar, in care, nursing or in a day care center. Both the elderly and small children are susceptible to infection and are more at risk if they become infected. If you call your doctor’s practice with your complaints, it is quite possible that the doctor or assistant will not ask you to come to the practice. Then, based on the telephone data, he has been able to draw the conclusion that you suffer from uncomplicated acute diarrhea. In that case he can suffice with telephone advice. If you have one or more of the symptoms listed above, it is therefore important that you already report this to your doctor or assistant by telephone.
What can you do about it yourself?
Acute diarrhea will resolve on its own within two weeks. However, two weeks is exceptionally long for a period of acute diarrhea. The ‘two-week’ criterion is mainly used to distinguish the definition of acute diarrhea from chronic diarrhea. It is common for acute diarrhea to resolve within 4 to 7 days. You do not need any medication for this. What you can do:
- Drink a lot. If you have diarrhea, your body loses more fluid than normal. To prevent a fluid deficiency in your body, you must therefore drink more than usual. A good rule is to take a glass of fluid after every thin stool. This does not have to be something special, you can just drink what you like
- If you suffer from nausea and vomiting, it is better not to drink too much at the same time. For example, if you take a few sips every five minutes, you are more likely to keep the fluid in
- Limit sweet drinks (such as milk and apple juice) if the diarrhea lasts longer than 7 days or starts again
- Keeping a diet or not eating at all is not useful. Eat what is good and what you like. Use small portions for abdominal cramps
- Due to the risk of infection for your family members, it is important to pay extra attention to your hygiene. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, before preparing food and eating. Even after changing a child with diarrhea , it is wise to wash your hands
- Wash off all the food and drink you have used. You can also infect others through saliva
- Temporarily stop the use of water tablets due to fluid loss. Contact your doctor about this
- If your diarrhea is very severe, and if you also vomit and / or have a fever, the risk of dehydration is increased. In that case it is advisable to consult your doctor. This will in any case advise you to supplement salt and sugar as well as moisture. This is best done by purchasing ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) bags at a drugstore or pharmacy. If you dissolve such a bag in 200 ml of water, you have exactly the right ratio of salt and sugar in your drink. After each thin stool, take up to 300 ml ORS. It is not advisable to make your own ORS: the salt and sugar ratios are then often incorrect and that is not without risk. there are no medicines with an effect on the total duration of the diarrhea.
- Loperamide reduces the number of discharges from stools. It can be used in a dosage of 1 to 6 capsules per day (no more !, maximum 16 mg per day) for a maximum of 2 days. If it is used for too long, there is a risk of constipation (blockage). Loperamide must not be used by children under 8 years of age and pregnant women. It must also not be used if there are signs that indicate a bacterial infection: blood or mucus in the stool, a high fever for more than two days and severe stomach cramps. In principle, the use of loperamide is only recommended if diarrhea is unacceptable, for example because toilet visits are not possible during a long bus trip
- Azithromycin can be prescribed for persistent or high fever and / or a lot of blood and mucus in the stool, if the causative agent is unknown
- Anti-vomiting agents (anti-emetics). These are medicines that prevent nausea and vomiting. Their use is not recommended: they are not very effective and are not free of side effects
General advice and precautions
- To prevent acute diarrhea, it is important to preserve and prepare food with care. Note the expiration date. Bake, roast or cook your food long enough. It must be thoroughly cooked
- You can try to prevent dehydration by drinking a lot at the first symptoms
- If you use water tablets and / or are older than 70, you should contact your doctor on the first day of acute diarrhea
- Even if you have a chronic illness, you should contact your doctor on the first day with diarrhea
- If you use medication (for example, the contraceptive pill) or have recently taken medication (for example, an antibiotic cure), you should contact your doctor or his assistant. This can tell you whether your diarrhea is caused by the medication. It is also possible that the effect of medication is influenced by diarrhea.
Source : dokterdokter