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Diarrhea is an increase in the frequency of bowel movements or a decrease in the form of stool (greater looseness of stool). Although changes in frequency of bowel movements and looseness of stools can vary independently of each other, changes often occur in both.

Diarrhea needs to be distinguished from four other conditions. Although these conditions may accompany diarrhea, they often have different causes and different treatments than diarrhea. These other conditions are:

  1. Incontinence of stool, which is the inability to control (delay) bowel movements until an appropriate time, for example, until one can get to the toilet
  1. Rectal urgency, which is a sudden urge to have a bowel movement that is so strong that if a toilet is not immediately available there will be incontinence
  1. Incomplete evacuation, which is a sensation that another bowel movement is necessary soon after a bowel movement, yet there is difficulty passing further stool the second time
  1. Bowel movements immediately after eating a meal

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Loose and watery stools. You may suffer from abdominal cramping and even have a fever, along with chills. If you've had diarrhea for a few days, you may feel lightheaded or weak. This comes from rapidly losing the minerals, sugar, and water that your body needs. Normally, diarrhea won't cause you to lose control of your bowels; if this happens, you should consult your doctor.

You may notice that you're urinating less. This is because your body is losing water through bowel movements instead of urine. If the diarrhea lasts longer than 48 hours or you have a fever of 38.5ºC or higher, or have severe abdominal pain or vomiting that prevents fluid replacement by mouth, see a doctor immediately. Acute diarrhea accompanied by fever and stools with blood can be signs of a potentially dangerous infection or parasite. Always consult a doctor for a child with diarrhea who hasn't urinated for six hours - the child could be dangerously dehydrated.

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There are many different diseases tht can be associated with diarrhea. Most of the severe causes are rare and the most common form is the one that affects most of us for a few days each year. It is due to a simple infection, usually caused by a virus.

Bacterial infections can cause more serious cases of diarrhea caused by eating contaminated food or liquids. Common bacteria are campylobacter, salmonellae, and shigella organisms; less common are Escherichia coli (E coli), yersinial, listerial, and cryptosporidial bacteria. These can cause fairly severe diarrhea with vomiting, abdominal cramping and fever.

The more serious causes include ulcerative colitis (when blood is usually present in the stools), regional ileitis (Crohn's disease), some forms of intestinal cancer (when pain and weight loss might also be present), and some disorders of the intestine that lead to poor digestion of food.

"Nervous diarrhea," in its more severe form a component of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), is very common and often shows up briefly when we face the stress of a term paper or a job interview. However, some people suffer nervous stress fairly constantly and may have continuous diarrhea because of it.

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Home Remedies

Most diarrhea resolves itself in a few days. It results in complications only in severe cases, with dehydration as a by-product.

To replenish the fluids and minerals that have been flushed out of the system, some doctors advise drinking a quart of carbonated water in which 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and baking soda have been dissolved.

You should see a doctor if you have pain, fever, or the presence of blood or mucus in the stool, if you have persistent diarrhea or an inability to diagnose the diarrhea's cause, or if you have dehydration from the diarrheal loss of fluids and electrolytes, or salts.

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Herbal Remedies

Tannin-rich berries Blackberry, blueberry, and bilberry have a high tannic acid content. To ease diarrhea, boil 1 to 2 tablespoons berries or dried leaves in 11/2 cups water for 10 minutes, then strain. Drink one cup several times a day, preparing it fresh each time. Excessive doses of tannins may cause liver damage. Pregnant women should avoid medicinal doses of tannins.

White oak bark This herb contains astringent tannins. It is commercially available as an extract and in capsules and tea bags. To make your own decoction, add 1/2 teaspoon powdered bark to 1 cup cold water. Boil for 5 minutes, then strain. Drink one cupful per day.

Wild strawberry A tea made from the leaves of wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) can be drunk several times a day to treat diarrhea. Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon dried leaves. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. The tea may cause an allergic reaction in people hypersensitive to strawberries.

Walnut leaf Place 1 to 2 teaspoons minced walnut leaves (Juglans regia) in 1 cup cold water and heat to boiling. Steep for five minutes; strain. Drink a cupful one to three times a day.

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Wellness Program

Allow yourself to rest. Moderate fasting the first day helps. Stick to fluids at first, substantially increasing your normal intake; experts suggest at least 10 cups daily. As you begin to eat, choose foods with high levels of nutrients to replace those lost. You will find the suggestions given here helpful. Avoid rich, fatty, heavy foods, which overtax the intestine.

Drink plenty of liquids, such as hot carob drink, carrot juice, and "green drinks," as well as plenty of quality water. The prolonged loss of fluids as a result of diarrhea can lead to dehydration and loss of necessary minerals, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Liquid gelatin, clear broth, sodas such as ginger ale or flat cola, and weak tea with honey can be substituted for water if necessary Carrot juice is also good, and makes the stools less watery.

Avoid drinking apple juice because it can make your diarrhea worse.

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