Causes of Sudden (Acute) Diarrhea

Definition of Acute Diarrhea

Diarrhea means having more than three loose bowel movements a day.

Acute (Lat. acutus = sharp, pointed) diarrhea, by definition, lasts less than 3 weeks (1).

Causes of Acute Diarrhea

A) Acute INFECTIOUS Diarrhea

  • Bacterial diarrhea usually occurs in food poisoning due to infection with bacteria, like E. coli or Salmonella.
  • Parasitic diarrhea may be due to intestinal worms, or one-cell parasites like Entamoeba hystolytica, or Giardia.
  • Viral diarrhea mainly affects small children in kinder-gartens due to stool-to-mouth infection from other children, or (in poor countries) due to infection by water, contaminated by rotavirus.

B) Acute NON-INFECTIOUS Diarrhea

  • Food allergies may affect children or adults. Main causes are wheat, eggs, cow milk, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree-nuts, but can be virtually any food.
  • Fish poisoning. Both ciguatera poisoning by big tropical fish like barracuda or meckerel, and scombroid poisoning by non-properly stored fish are common.
  • Psychological stress may cause sudden diarrhea.
  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhea may occur few days or several weeks after start of treatment with antibiotics by mouth.
  • Medications like laxatives or magnesium antacids stimulate bowel motility.
  • Chemotherapy and irradiation damage cells in intestinal lining.
  • Mushrooms (even non-poisonous), and poisonous plants like foxglove or oleander may cause severe diarrhea.
  • Pesticides, ingested or inhaled may cause severe diarrhea.
  • Ingestion of heavy metals, like arsenic or mercury may cause severe diarrhea.
  • Runner’s diarrhea often affects long-distance runners.
  • Diarrhea may occur in women before child-birth.

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