In case of diarrhoea, it is first necessary to find the underlying cause of the problem. Accurately identifying the cause of the disorder is in fact the first step towards establishing a proper cure.
If the diarrhoea is particularly intense or prolonged, it is essential to consult a proctologist. During the examination the specialist can make a diagnosis or prescribe further examinations.
The initial phase of the diagnostic process is the anamnesis, or clinical history. The doctor will collect information on the frequency of the evacuations, the stool consistency and volume, how long the problem has been going on and any related symptoms.
The specialist may then carry out an anoscopy and a rectal exploration and may palpate the abdomen to check for abnormal masses.
The doctor may also prescribe laboratory tests, such as:
- a faecal occult blood test
- specific blood tests
- a stool test
In the presence of chronic symptoms or of some diseases occurring in the family history, further tests may be required such as a colonoscopy or radiological examinations.
Diarrhoea: nutrition and prevention
In the absence of specific diseases, episodes of diarrhoea can be prevented by following certain precautions and good eating habits.
Furthermore, even in the presence of diarrhoea linked to well-defined pathologies, the same habits and precautions can sometimes help to reduce symptoms.
In other cases, on the other hand, according to the triggering cause, the specialist will indicate the diet to follow and the hygienic-behavioural habits to be adopted.
In particular, should the diarrhoea be caused by specific intestinal diseases (e.g. Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis), the doctor will provide information on the diet to follow or refer us to a nutritionist.
Should the diarrhoea be of infectious origin, it is essential to follow the hygiene rules for food safety and only ingest foods and beverages whose origin is certain and controlled, especially in exotic countries.
In the presence of diarrhoea caused by medicines, foods or beverages which are not well tolerated, excluding the products responsible from the diet will be sufficient and in the case of medicines, to evaluate the available alternatives with the doctor.
Diarrhoea: what to eat
Among the foods and beverages which can cause diarrhoea most often under certain conditions and therefore should be avoided, we have:
- alcohol and in particular beer
- cold or iced drinks
- fruit juices and very sweet drinks
- milk and dairy products (e.g. mozzarella, ricotta)
- foods which naturally possess laxative properties (e.g. kiwis, legumes, whole grains, plums, dried fruit, beer, oilseeds, liquorice, figs)
- food that is very fatty and difficult to digest (e.g. sausages and cold cuts, fat cheeses, creamy desserts etc.)
- diet foods and beverages with artificial sweeteners (e.g. aspartame)
- excessive seasonings
- fried or stewed foods
On the contrary, in order to contain the symptoms associated with diarrhoea, the following products are preferable:
- astringent foods and beverages (e.g. lemon, bananas, boiled potatoes, boiled rice, apples)
- lean meats (e.g. chicken, turkey, rabbit)
- lean fish (e.g. sea bream, sea bass, cod)
- low-fat and aged cheeses (e.g. parmesan cheese)
Among the situations and lifestyles which can cause the onset of sporadic or chronic diarrhoea, we have:
- emotional tension and stress.
- poor hygiene in storing, handling and preparing foods and drinks.
- chills and sudden temperature changes.
- meals which are too abundant and eaten quickly.
Therefore, in order to reduce the risk of diarrhoea, it is advisable to follow a balanced lifestyle, paying attention to the diet and to food preservation and preparation.
Complications of diarrhoea
It is essential not to ignore or neglect the disorder, in particular if it persists. Diarrhoea may in fact hide more serious problems.
Furthermore, even when diarrhoea is not associated with more serious illnesses, it can still pose risks to our health, particularly if it is prolonged over time.
- Dehydration and loss of mineral salts
The greatest risk associated with diarrhoea is probably dehydration: in a short time, the body loses many fluids and mineral salts which are precious for its proper functioning. Dehydration is particularly dangerous for the elderly and for children.
- Reduced absorption of food and nutrients
Frequent discharges of diarrhoea result in a reduced absorption of nutrients from ingested foods. In more serious cases this can lead to malnutrition due to malabsorption.
- Infections of the perianal area
In the case of diarrhoea, it is essential to take care of hygiene in the perianal area with specific products. Proper intimate hygiene helps prevent the onset of local infections and inflammations.
- Psychological problems and limitation of social activities
Diarrhoea can create psychological problems for sufferers, limiting daily activities and social life.
The use of medicines or supplements to treat diarrhoea depends on the features of the disease. Often, the types of diarrhoea which require pharmacological treatment are those associated with an bowel infection caused by bacteria or parasites.
In these cases, there are several medicines and supplements useful to counteract the problem:
- specific antibiotics to fight bacterial infection
- activated charcoal to promote the absorption of excess liquids
- antiprotozoal agents to counteract protozoan infections
- lactic ferments and probiotics to restore intestinal bacterial flora
- antispasmodics to reduce spasms
It is important that the intake of medicines and supplements should always be evaluated in advance by the specialist or by your doctor.
Diarrhoea: remedies and medical therapies
Remedies and medical therapies for the treatment of diarrhoea normally aim to treat the underlying disease and are therefore very different from each other.
Chronic diarrhoea can in fact be caused by inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, tumours, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome or other diseases requiring specific care. It is therefore necessary to listen to the doctor’s opinion before starting any therapy.