What is the cause of diarrhea?

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There are a significant number of causes of diarrhea. It typically is caused by something that irritates the gastrointestinal tract. Acute diarrhea is usually related to a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection. Chronic diarrhea is usually related to functional disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. Some examples of the many causes are:
  • Viral infections. Norwalk Flu (viral gastroenteritis caused by norovirus or other viruses), aka "stomach flu", are the most common causes of acute diarrhea. Many other viruses cause diarrhea, including rotavirus, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus, and viral hepatitis.

  • Reaction to medicines. Many medications can have the side effect of diarrhea. Antibiotics that kill the "good bacteria" are an example. Without the good bacteria, other microbes can grow out of control and irritate the gut causing diarrhea. Additional medicines that can cause diarrhea include: blood pressure medications, cancer drugs, antacids containing magnesium, NSAIDS, and antiarrhythmia heart medicines.

  • Parasites. Parasites, worms, etc. can enter the body through food or water and exposure to others who harbor them, and settle in the digestive system. Parasites that cause diarrhea include Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica, and Cryptosporidium.

  • Bacterial infections. Several types of bacteria consumed through contaminated food (food poisoning) or water can cause diarrhea and are well known as: traveler's diarrhea, Delhi Belly, and Montezuma's Revenge. Additionally, not washing your hands after use of the restroom can allow you to pick up microbes and parasites from others that cause diarrhea. Common bacterial culprits include Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, and Escherichia coli (E. coli).

  • Unsafe drinking water. Besides the possible parasites, viral and bacterial infections, unsafe drinking water can contain toxic pollutants and the toxins made by bacteria that cause diarrhea.

  • Acute or Chronic systemic diseases and Intestinal diseases. Inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, Crohn's disease, Celiac disease, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), gastrointestinal cancers, ulcerative colitis, pancreatitis, Addison's Disease (pituitary), diabetes, hyperthyroidism, AIDS, etc. are common causes especially of chronic diarrhea. Acute diarrhea is often found with severe infections and septicemia.

  • Food intolerance. Some people are unable to digest food components such as artificial sweeteners, like Maltitol, etc. and lactose - the sugar found in milk (lactose intolerance).

  • Psychosomatic causes. Anxiety, stress, and panic attacks can create diarrhea.

  • Alcohol consumption can be a cause in some people, as well as chronic alcoholism due to various organ damage caused by alcohol abuse.

  • Bowel irregularity/constipation can cause diarrhea. If the bowel is impacted and unable to eliminate the feces, diarrhea can result as the body's response to try to flush the impaction out.

  • Laxative abuse. Some people overuse laxatives which can result in chronic diarrhea.

There are many causes of diarrhea. These causes can be from food poisoning, viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Most cases of viral diarrhea run it's course in a matter of days.
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