Diarrhoea is the passage of loose stool with more frequency than an individual passes stool normally. Therefore, one bout of loose stool is not, necessarily, diarrhoea. In most cases diarrhoea is not a serious problem and is merely the body or bowel clearing out a toxin. Diarrhoea is commonly associated with the ingestion of food that the body rejects or with mild viral or bacterial infections. More serious infection, such as Salmonella, will usually show up as diarrhoea, abdominal pains and associated vomiting and it needs to be treated under supervision. Less than severe cases – those improving over 48 hours or those with no other associated symptoms except perhaps mild abdominal discomfort -can be treated with the recommendations below.
Persisting diarrhoea (more than 72 hours) or diarrhoea associated with severe symptoms such as pain, vomiting, fever and debility should be reviewed by a GP and/or a complementary medical specialist. A change in bowel habit that is persistent may reflect a condition as sinister as a cancer and other problems such as ulcerative colitis (especially if there is blood and mucus associated with the stool), Crohn’s disease and malabsorption syndromes. It is best to have a definite diagnosis before any self-help or complementary medical treatment is prescribed.
Diarrhoea that persists longer than 48hr or is non-responsive to the recommendations below should be reviewed by a GP.
Once a definite diagnosis has been made, which may include stool sampling, a complementary medical view can be obtained.
Ensure good rehydration because diarrhoea can very swiftly lead to dehydration. Replenish any fluid loss, pint for pint, by judging the amount lost. Take water every half-hour, alternating with diluted fruit juice, soups and slightly salted water, but avoid milk, caffeine, alcohol and any drinks containing refined sugar.
Go with instinct and appetite. If you are hungry, aim at eating foods that ‘mop up’ poisons, such as wholegrain bread and pasta or rice. Avoid ‘binding’ foods such as eggs.
Take a good-quality Lactobacillus acidophilus or equivalent, which must be encapsulated to avoid the acid in the stomach. Live yoghurt culture is useful but may not survive the acidity.
Consider from your preferred homeopathic manual the remedies Arsenicum album, Carbo vegetabilis, Mercurius, Nux vomica and Sulphur. Take the selected remedy at potency 6 every hour for three doses and then every 2hr until better.
Avoid any medication or herbal treatment that ‘stops’ diarrhoea. It is better to obtain complementary medical advice when dealing with persisting diarrhoea than stopping the elimination.
Two teaspoons of chamomile tea with a teaspoonful of rosemary and a teaspoonful of sage per pint flavoured with honey is a soothing and potentially antibacterial drink that can be used as part of your fluid replenishment.
This condition of bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain and associated debility is uncommon in areas of good sanitation and hygiene and is generally caused by a bacterium called Shigella or by an amoeba. It is an unpleasant condition and, if left untreated, may be serious or even fatal. Serious complications occur because of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance caused by persistent loss of body fluids.
Any bleeding from any orifice that is persistent or recurrent needs to be reviewed by a doctor.
Diagnosis is made by culture of the stool and unless the situation is very serious, antibiotics should be refused until a diagnosis of the causative organism has been made. The use of antibiotics against amoeba is at best pointless and at worst harmful to the body’s natural flora, which are competing with the amoeba.
Ensure constant rehydration with water and salt/sugar solutions.
Dysentery should not be treated without expert help but the homeopathic remedies Phosphorus, Mercurius and Baptesia, all at potency 6 and taken every hour, can be considered until further medical or homeopathic advice can be gleaned.
Two billion units of Lactobacillus acidophilus should be taken every 4hr along with live yoghurt and polished rice. (This is one of the rare occasions where I encourage the use of a refined food over the harder-to-digest wholegrain foods.)
Specific herbal preparations can be used against both bacterial and amoebic infections in the bowel but these should be taken under the guidance of a herbalist.
Faeces or stool are the correct and polite medical terms for the bowel’s waste products. To the practitioner of medicine, the stool can be a mine of information and some basic knowledge can be great self-help in diagnosing problems at an early stage.
Blood in faeces
The presence of blood in the stool is abnormal and such a finding without a known cause must be investigated by a medical practitioner. The most common cause of blood in the stool is from a haemorrhoid or pile . Less common causes, but sadly more sinister, include cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and benign growths such as polyps. Blood may be mixed with the faeces or separate on the outside, in the pan or on the toilet paper, and these factors along with the colour (bright or dark) give the practitioner a clue as to the probable cause. The more the blood is mixed with the faeces, the higher up the gastrointestinal tract is the bleeding; the darker the blood, the longer it has been present.
Colour of faeces
The colour of faeces is dependent upon the diet. One should get used to looking at one’s stool so that any variation from the norm may be noted.
A very black or tarry stool is known as melena and is caused by bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, such as the stomach. The tarry effect is caused by blood being digested and is an indication of potentially serious gastritis or ulcer.
A white or yellow stool is indicative of the presence of undigested fat and may represent liver or gallbladder disease.
A persistent change in colour not related to dietetics should be mentioned to a complementary medical practitioner who should examine you from a broad, constitutional angle to ensure that there is no other digestive or systemic problem.
Everybody should have their own bowel evacuation frequency. In other words, we should all go a regular number of times per day. It is acceptable to open the bowels only once every other day provided that this is normal for you. Put simply, there is no correct number although once a day, in the morning, is preferable.
A change in frequency that persists and is not associated with an infection or a change in diet should be reviewed by a physician, who may choose to perform investigations. A change of frequency or bowel habit is an early and therefore invaluable sign of bowel cancer.
Mucus with stool
Mucus is a clear jelly-like compound that may be watery or gelatinous. The bowel produces mucus to protect itself from acids and alkalis but by the time the faeces reach the colon it should be mixed in and not noticeable as a separate entity. The presence of noticeable mucus is indicative of some inflammatory response and requires a medical opinion and investigations such as a colonoscopy or barium study.
Mucus may be associated with a temporary bowel infection but would therefore be associated with pain or diarrhoea. If this passes then no further action need be taken but a persistence of mucus production must be investigated.
Texture of faeces
See Diarrhoea and constipation
The texture of stool is dependent upon the diet and amount of dehydration. A dry crumbly stool is indicative of a lack of water whereas a loose stool may represent a diet lacking in fibre.
The presence of undigested food suggests that the diet or the digestive juices are not correct and a review with a nutritionist is advisable.
A change in the texture of stool, as with its frequency, that persists beyond two weeks and is not associated with a change in diet or recent infection might be an indication of something sinister and should be reviewed by a doctor.
As disagreeable as it may be to some, it is advisable to have a knowledge of your regular faeces and occasional glances at them is highly recommended. Any persistent changes should be brought to the attention of your health adviser.
Remember that there is no right or wrong colour, texture or frequency and everyone is different. It is the changes that need to be registered.