When diarrhea strikes, it’s easy to think of your intestines as the enemy, but the truth is they might be your best friend! While you are having an exhausting and uncomfortable couple of days, diarrhea is also working hard flush out the bad stuff.

What’s Happening Inside?

Diarrhea is typically caused by a viral infection in the gut, commonly referred to as stomach flu. It can also happen because of other factors like medications, certain foods that upset digestion, alcohol, or overuse of laxatives. Diarrhea occurs because the intestines are secreting more fluid or absorbing less fluid, and the stool is passing through more rapidly than normal. This explains the suddenness of bowel movements, and the watery consistency of the stool. Knowing what is happening is pretty easy, but why is it happening?

Why Is It Happening?

The purpose of diarrhea has been widely debated for years, but recently a study by Brigham and Women's Hospital found that diarrhea actually helps clear an infection. The study involved observing the length of infection when diarrhea was prevented and when it was not. The results showed that the molecules causing diarrhea helped clear the infection and reduced the disease’s severity. It turns out that diarrhea may not simply be a symptom of infection but rather a means for attacking it.

When To Worry

Knowing diarrhea has a purpose will help you feel less worried about what’s happening inside your body, but there are times when you should be concerned. For adults, these times include when fever is higher than 102°, when diarrhea lasts longer than 2 days without improvement, bloody stool, or severe abdominal pain. For children, call your doctor if your child vomits more than twice and shows signs of abdominal pain, there is blood in the diaper, or his stomach appears bloated. Children most commonly get diarrhea from infection, so if it has not improved after 24 hours, it is time to see your doctor to see if additional treatment for infection is necessary. Dehydration is also common for adults and children with diarrhea and can cause urinary tract infections or kidney issues if it lasts too long. Other more serious complications from dehydration can occur, especially in young children and infants, so it is important that you drink a lot of fluids and offer water, juice, or breast milk to children—popsicles can be a great option for toddlers who have trouble getting enough fluids—and contact your doctor if you or your child experience any of these worrisome issues with diarrhea. 

The doctors at GI Associates can help with your symptoms as well as answer any other questions you have about diarrhea and its role in your body. We also have a pediatric division with a wonderful team specializing in gastrointestinal issues in children. Make an appointment with us today.

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