Gurgles, Grumbles, and Rumbles: What Could Be Causing Your Stomach Troubles
No one really likes to talk about diarrhea in public, but it’s a fact of life and an important health issue. While diarrhea can make you run for the bathroom at the most inopportune time, it can also quickly progress from merely embarrassing to potentially life-threatening if left untreated. In fact, one out of nine deaths among children worldwide is attributed to a diarrheal disease.
“The potential for diarrhea to do serious harm comes from the profound dehydration it can cause,” says Brian Copeland, D.O., chief of Gastroenterology for Crozer-Keystone Health System. “Repeated bouts result in a loss of fluids and electrolytes that are essential for keeping your body working optimally.”
Diarrhea is also an important early-warning signal that something isn’t right with your health. While it’s commonly caused by a virus or something you ate, it can also be a symptom of an illness.
Knowing When to Get Help for Diarrhea
“If you have diarrhea, your stools will be thin and watery and you’ll likely have the need to use the bathroom urgently,” Copeland says. “Other symptoms may accompany it, including bloating, gas, cramps and occasionally nausea and vomiting, depending on the cause.”
Typically, diarrhea isn’t serious if it clears up in a day or two. However, you should talk to your doctor if you have diarrhea accompanied by:
- Blood in your diarrhea or black, tarry stools since these may be signs of colorectal disease
- A fever that lasts more than 24 hours, which indicates an infection
- The inability to keep anything down, since vomiting will inhibit your ability to replace lost fluids
- Pain in your abdomen or rectum, which could be caused by a blockage
- Diarrhea after traveling abroad, since this could be caused by a parasite
What’s Causing It?
“Diarrhea has many different causes, which can be generally grouped as bacterial, viral, substance and food intolerance, illnesses and chronic conditions,” Copeland says. “In some cases, such as with diarrhea caused by bacteria or a virus, you can do things to reduce your risks.”
This includes washing your food well and thoroughly cooking meats, poultry and fish. You should also follow the same hygiene rules you use to avoid other illnesses like a cold or the flu, which include washing your hands frequently and avoiding exposure to people who may be sick.
In some cases, what you consume may be causing your diarrhea. You may have an issue with certain foods, such as milk. You may also be sensitive to food products that some people can consume without any problems, such as fructose (natural sugar), artificial sweeteners, alcohol or caffeine.
“Sometimes medications can cause diarrhea as well,” Copeland says. “Even if you need to take that medication to treat a condition, tell your doctor about your diarrhea since adjusting your dosage or adding an anti-diarrheal medication may help with your symptoms.”
In rarer cases, diarrhea may be caused by a serious illness such as Crohn’s disease, colitis and some cancers. This is why it’s important to be vigilant about your symptoms and talk to your doctor if your diarrhea lasts more than a few days or is accompanied by other symptoms such as weight loss.