When bowel movements become unusually frequent, loose and watery, or both, it is diarrhea. The range of normal for bowel habit is highly variable among individuals. Generally, if an individual is having more than three bowel movements daily, particularly if they are loose and if the volume seems large, there is cause to investigate the possibility of diarrhea. If a patient has a change in customary bowel habit, although it may not exceed these limits, there is cause for further investigation.
Diarrhea is not a phenomenon of aging, but it is a frequent problem in elderly patients. Diarrhea can cause dehydration because of excessive loss of fluids and salts, and this is less well tolerated by elderly patients. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can avoid these possible complications.
It is difficult to know when it is necessary to call on a physician for help with a problem that is so common and so often self-limited. As a rule, seek help if diarrhea occurs in association with fever or chills or a skin rash or if blood is present in the stool. Patients who are diabetic or who are taking heart medications may experience complications earlier and with less diarrhea than people who are otherwise healthy. They are a high-risk group.
Important Points in Treatment
Mild diarrhea is most often a self-limited disease and resolves on its own. The use of fluids with some salt in them for supplements may make you more comfortable. Cola drinks seem particularly useful in this regard. They contain a small amount of potassium, a salt lost with the diarrhea. They are palatable and well tolerated even if you have had difficulty with nausea and vomiting. Special oral salt replacement solutions are available, but these are rarely necessary in adults.
If you are in a high-risk category or if the diarrhea is unusually severe and persistent, hospitalization may be necessary to permit intravenous fluid administration.
Notify Our Office If ...
- You have diarrhea in association with fever or chills or a skin rash, or if there is blood in the stool.
- You have symptoms of diarrhea and are diabetic or on heart medications. Patients who are diabetic or who are taking heart medications may experience complications earlier and with less diarrhea than people who are otherwise healthy. They are a high risk group.