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Diarrhea, or loose, watery stool, is the body's way of clearing viruses, bacteria or toxins from the digestive tract. The average American adult will experience bouts of acute, or immediate, diarrhea approximately four times a year, while children may experience seven to 15 episodes annually. There are three types of diarrhea: osmotic, secretory and exudative.
Osmotic diarrhea occurs when the body is unable to absorb a nutrient, such as lactose or fructose, and it draws excess water into the bowel, like a sponge, resulting in loose stool. Osmotic diarrhea can also occur when using laxatives, or if someone has trouble absorbing sorbitol, a sugar substitute. This phenomenon is also known as "chewing gum diarrhea," because sorbital is often found in sugar-free gum.
Secretory diarrhea occurs when an infection or virus causes the body to make too much water, which is released into the bowels. It can happen even if a person has not had anything to eat or drink.
Exudative diarrhea often occurs due to an infection or inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease, and causes there to be blood and pus in the stool. If you experience blood in your stool, seek medical attention because it could be a sign of an infectious inflammatory condition or inflammatory bowel disease.
Diarrhea Warning Signs
If you experience these symptoms while suffering from diarrhea, you may be dehydrated:
• Stools are black or contain blood or pus
• Fever above 102° Fahrenheit
• Dark-colored urine
• Less-frequent urination
• Dry skin or tenting
• Fatigue or lethargy
• Crying without tears
To treat acute cases of diarrhea, replenish your fluids with an electrolyte replacement drink. Avoid sodas and juices, because the sugars can contribute to more diarrhea. Also, make sure to wash your hands, because diarrhea can be infectious.
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