Did You Know? Digestive Health Facts

Gastroenterologist Dr. Flavio Habal answers some of the most common questions about diarrhea — the signs, symptoms and how to treat.

It’s not exactly anyone’s favourite subject, but gastrointestinal upsets – such as diarrhea – will most likely affect you at some point in your life.  Understanding what diarrhea is and how to treat it can save you from suffering needlessly through its symptoms.  Dr. Flavio Habal, Gastroenterologist and Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto answers some common questions:

What causes diarrhea?

The root cause of diarrhea is the inability to absorb fluid and electrolytes from your gut, whether it’s caused from failure to digest or failure to absorb your food. When food is not digested or absorbed, it retains the water and electrolytes and results in the passage of watery stools.

If you can’t digest your food, you don’t absorb it, which will lead to diarrhea and weight loss.

Can I tell when it’s going to-start?

The most common symptoms include an increase in the number of bowel movements, which can be associated with bloating, abdominal cramps and gas. These symptoms may be associated with an urge to have a bowel movement.

Is it always caused by the same thing?

No.  Everything from illness to regular body functions can cause acute or temporary diarrhea.  Viruses or bacterial infections can disrupt the balance in your digestive system, the wrong food, and even stress can be culprits.

What can I do about it?

Sudden onset, non-bloody diarrhea can be treated with fluids and anti-motility drugs such as Imodium. Some people think that diarrhea is a way to eliminate the infection, but for non-acute diarrhea that limits your quality of life, anti-motility drugs can help you feel better and prevent dehydration by slowing down the movement of fluid and nutrients in the intestine.   Anti-motility drugs do not prolong the symptoms; rather, they can allow you to go about your daily routine.

When should I see my doctor?

If diarrhea persists for more than two days, or becomes bloody with fever, cramps and dizziness, it’s important to seek medical attention.


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