Diarrhea is a digestive condition that results in loose stools. It sometimes lasts a couple of days or at times lasts more than 4 weeks. The one that lasts longer is termed chronic diarrhea. If it lasts further, it points to a serious disorder, such as inflammatory or irritable bowel disease. Chronic diarrhea causes dehydration, which if not treated can prove fatal.
Symptoms and complications
The main symptom of diarrhea is loose stools. Other symptoms include nausea, abdominal cramps and bloating or urgent need to have a bowel movement. Acute diarrhea may not be harmful, but chronic diarrhea can be life-threatening if it has caused prolonged dehydration.
Causes of chronic diarrhea
Chronic diarrhea causes can vary from medications to viruses. Some of the major causes of chronic diarrhea in adults are as follows:
- Sanitation – Chronic diarrhea is mostly caused by the consumption of unclean water. The source of unclean water can be exposure to open defecation, cohabitation with domestic animals and lack of refrigeration of food.
- Medications – Sometimes an already existing medical condition is one of the chronic diarrhea causes. Penicillin, laxatives, antacids, heartburn medications, antibiotics, anti-neoplastic drugs, anti-inflammatories are few which falls into the category.
- Nutrition – Lack of proper nutrition and deficiency of zinc and vitamin A also cause chronic diarrhea.
- Viral infection – Various viruses like Rotavirus, cytomegalovirus and viral hepatitis can also cause diarrhea.
- Lactose – Lactose, a sugar found in milk, cannot be easily digested by some people. These people can experience diarrhea after consuming dairy products.
- Bacteria – Certain bacteria, like campylobacter, salmonella, shigella and Escherichia coli can also be the cause of chronic diarrhea in adults.
- Contaminated food – Unclean food and water can spread bacteria into the body, which can cause diarrhea.
- Other diseases – Diarrhea can also be caused by other diseases like ethanol ingestion, inflammatory bowel diseases and radiation enterotherapy for treating cancers.
- Malabsorption – This occurs when a person is not able to absorb food fully, mainly because of disorders in bowel or indigestion from diseases of the pancreas.
Prevention and treatment
Wash and sanitize your hands to prevent the spread of viral diarrhea. Keep a watch at the source of the food and water you consume. Watch what you eat and drink. Avoid any source of contaminated food and water. Immunization against pathogens that cause diarrhea can prevent chronic diarrhea to a great extent. Combat dietary deficiencies by practicing healthy eating habits. In case a person is taking antibiotics, probiotic drinks decrease the risk of diarrhea.