Diarrhea is a common symptom of most gastro-intestinal disorders and is characterized by the frequent passage of watery stool. By itself, it is not an important diagnostic tool or serious symptom. Almost everyone suffers an occasional bout of diarrhea, and usually do not suffer ill effects. One of the most common causes is a meal high in fat. Another common cause is food poisoning.
However, diarrhea can have serious complications and causes about 2.5 million deaths a year, the majority of which are in children under the age of 5.
- In many infectious diseases, such as polio and cholera, the infectious agent is passed through the feces.
- Constant diarrhea can result in dehydration if the patient is not able to take in fluids and is not given fluids intravenously. In fact, most deaths from cholera are not from the disease, but from dehydration.
- Diarrhea can also cause an imbalance of electrolytes, which can set off problems with the brain or kidneys.
- Diarrhea can exacerbate other diseases of the intestinal tract, such as hemorrhoids.
- Rotavirus is the most common reason children under 5 are hospitalized with diarrhea.