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Diarrheal Disorders - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment.

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Diarrheal disorders are the major cause of death in adults and young children (less than five years). But this condition can be prevented, treated, and cured.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Jagdish Singh

Published At September 26, 2023
Reviewed AtSeptember 26, 2023


The action of getting rid of metabolic wastes of the body in the form of feces (stool) is a process that is carried out routinely in daily life. But the passage of loose and fluid stools more than three times a day is considered diarrhea. Diarrhea is the manifestation of any infection (either bacterial, fungi, or viruses) that is caused by the intake of contaminated food and water. This is a highly transmissible disease. Depending on the time period, diarrhea is classified into three types, namely:

  • Acute Diarrhea: This is the most common type of diarrhea that is seen in adults and children. In children, it is caused by rotavirus; in adults, it is caused by norovirus. An acute form of diarrhea is also seen in travelers (travelers diarrhea). Bacterial and viral infections are the cause of acute diarrhea. Acute diarrhea gets resolved on its own within three days and does not require any treatment.

  • Chronic Diarrhea: Diarrhea that persists for more than a month is called chronic diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea is either caused by malabsorption, inflammatory bowel disease, certain cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, lack of blood supply to the intestines, and the presence of polyps. Chronic diarrhea leads to serious complications.

  • Persistent Diarrhea: This type persists for a time of 14 to 30 days. persistent diarrhea, also called toddler diarrhea, as is commonly seen in children.

What Are the Diarrheal Disorders?

If the diarrhea is left untreated or in cases of chronic diarrhea, would result in health complications or disorders such as:

1. Dehydration: Diarrhea would always end in life-threatening conditions such as dehydration. This is the common cause of death among children in undeveloped countries. Dehydration is the loss of excessive amounts of water from the body. Water is lost from the body either through loose, watery stools, sweat, vomiting (nausea), and urine. Dehydration can be treated by intake of more amounts of water. Every time the person goes to loose, watery stools, large amounts of water are lost from the body. This should be replaced immediately by taking excess amounts of water. The lost water from the body should be replaced immediately, or else it will end in dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Fatigue or weakness leads to dullness, or sometimes the person becomes unconscious.

  • A person may look exhausted with faded eyes (sunken eyes).

  • Poor intake of fluids leads to reduced urination.

  • Excessive thirst.

  • The patient notices dryness of lips, skin, and mouth.

  • Abdominal cramps, vomiting.

  • Rise in temperatures, and sometimes blood and mucus can also be seen in loose, watery stools.

Depending upon the severity, dehydration is divided into three types, namely:

  • No Dehydration: No symptoms of diarrhea.

  • Acute Dehydration: Presence of two or less than two symptoms mentioned above.

  • Severe Dehydration: Presence of two or more symptoms mentioned above.

2. Imbalance of Electrolytes: Electrolytes play an important role in stabilizing body fluids, maintaining the pulse, and assisting in neurological and muscular functions of the body. Electrolytes are the minerals that are present in food, fluids, and supplements; the body can also make its electrolytes. During diarrhea, excess amounts of these electrolytes are lost from the body leading to life-threatening conditions, especially in children. Replenishment of the electrolytes must be done immediately to avoid further complications.

What Are the Major Electrolytes Present in the Body?

  • Sodium: Important for neurological and muscular functions.

  • Potassium: Aids in metabolism by nourishing the cells and withdrawing the byproducts (waste products) out of the cells. Also helps in neuro-muscular coordination.

  • Calcium: Maintains blood pressure and sends signals from the cells to the brain and from the brain to the cells. Plays a crucial role in nerve signal conduction.

  • Magnesium: Important mineral for the formation of healthy bones and teeth.

  • Chloride: Regularizes blood pressure.

  • Phosphates: Helps in maintaining healthy bones.

  • Bicarbonates: Maintains the acid-base balance, thereby regularizing the body's PH. Helps in the removal of carbon dioxide from the cells.

What Are the Symptoms of Electrolyte Imbalance?

The common symptoms include:

  • Loss of memory.

  • Poor nerve and muscular coordination.

  • Muscular pains, weakness, frequent migraines.

  • Loss of sensation in the extremities of the body, like legs and hands.

  • Uneven heartbeats lead to tachycardia (increased heartbeat) or bradycardia (decreased heartbeat).

  • Diarrhea and vomiting.

Electrolyte imbalance is usually diagnosed by simple physical check-ups and laboratory tests called metabolic panel tests.

How to Treat Electrolyte Imbalance?

Treatment is mainly focused on replenishing the lost electrolytes and maintaining the balance. This is done by oral rehydration solutions (ORS). They are of two types:

  • Home Made ORS: Right amounts of sugar and salt are mixed with sterile water and given to patients; as salt contains sodium and potassium, it helps regain the lost electrolytes. This is simple and cost-effective, which is carried out in many households.

  • Commercially available ORS: Over-counter ORS are readily available in consumable tetra packs called ORS liquids with different flavors. Sachets are also available in the markets, which should be mixed with clean and sterile water and must be consumed.

How to Treat Kidney Failure That Is Caused Due to Diarrhea?

Kidney failure occurs mainly because of fluid imbalances. Therefore, treatment is directed toward electrolyte and fluid replacement. In severe cases, kidney failure can be treated by:

  • Dialysis: It is a process of removal of waste material from the body when kidneys fail to function properly.

  • Kidney Transplantation: Replacement of a damaged kidney with a healthy kidney from the donor.

Home Remedies to Treat Diarrheal Disorders:

Diarrhea is a common condition that is faced by everyone. Acute diarrhea can be cured by following simple tips at home and does not require medical interference. Here are a few household tips to be followed during acute diarrhea:

  1. Dehydration can be managed by drinking plenty of fluids such as water, juice, coconut water, and soups. Try to remain hydrated until the symptoms of diarrhea subside.

  2. Make a change in diet pattern; diarrhea patients are advised to follow the BRAT diet:

B: For bananas.

R: For rice.

A: For applesauce.

T: Toasts such as bread.

  1. Avoid caffeine-containing foods such as coffee.

  2. Do not consume foods that cause stomach bloating, including sprouts, cool drinks, alcohol, and sodas.

  3. Stop using dairy products until the diarrhea subsides.


Acute diarrhea does not require any treatment and subsides within 1 to 3 days, but if the symptoms of diarrhea persist for more than three days, the person is advised to meet the doctor. If left untreated, diarrhea results in life-threatening conditions such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and acute kidney failure. These disorders are reversible and should be treated immediately.

Dr. Jagdish Singh
Dr. Jagdish Singh

Medical Gastroenterology


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