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What Causes Diarrhea?

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Traveler’s Diarrhea

Delhi Belly and Montezuma’s Revenge are two nicknames for an experience shared by many unhappy travelers. Depending on the country, between 30% and 70% of travelers suffer a bout of diarrhea and vomiting, courtesy of contaminated local foods or water. If you travel to a developing country, avoid raw, unpeeled produce and water from the faucet. Eat only cooked foods prepared in a clean kitchen and stick with bottled water, even to brush your teeth. Typically, traveler’s diarrhea works its way out of your system within 12 hours.

Chronic Diarrhea

Sometimes diarrhea does not go away of its own accord. Chronic diarrhea has many possible causes, including some medications or intolerance to certain foods. Persistent and repeated bouts of diarrhea can also be a sign of a serious underlying condition.

1. Diarrhea caused by medication

Sometimes good medicines lead to bad diarrhea. “As more patients are treated with antibiotics, we see more cases of Clostridium difficile colitis,” Rapisarda tells WebMD. While going after bad bacteria, antibiotics can also kill good bacteria that protect your intestines. “Ironically, antibiotics to treat one type of infection can make a patient more vulnerable to this other type of infection.”

Blood pressure medications, cancer drugs, and antacids can also trigger diarrhea. If you take any of these medications and experience frequent or ongoing diarrhea, let your doctor know.

2. Diarrhea caused by food intolerance

Diarrhea may be the result if your body has trouble digesting certain foods. Diarrhea-inducing fare includes dairy products and artificial sweeteners. The undigested food causes nausea, diarrhea, cramping, and gas, normally within 30 minutes to two hours of entering your system.

Lactose intolerance affects 30 million to 50 million Americans, most of whom are black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian American. The impact of lactose intolerance varies. Some people can drink small amounts of milk in tea or coffee without stomach upset. Some can eat cheese or yogurt, which have less lactose than milk. Note the type and amount of dairy products you eat and their effect. You can also talk to your doctor about dietary supplements that may improve your digestion of dairy products.

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