Treatment of Chronic Diarrhea

diarrhea treatment

If diarrhea continues for more than 4 weeks, it is considered as chronic diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea requires evaluation to rule out underlying pathology. Compared to causes of acute diarrhea, most of the causes of chronic diarrhea are noninfectious.

Principle of treatment of chronic diarrhea:

Treatment of chronic diarrhea depends on the specific cause of diarrhea and it is directed towards the cause of diarrhea, which may be curative, suppressive, or empirical. If the cause can be removed or eradicated, the treatment of chronic diarrhea is curative as with resection of a colorectal cancer, antibiotic administration for Whipple’s disease, or discontinuation of a drug (if any drug is the cause of chronic diarrhea).

For many chronic conditions, diarrhea can be controlled by suppression of the underlying mechanism which is causing the chronic diarrhea. Examples are elimination of dietary lactose for lactase deficiency or gluten (gluten free diet) for celiac sprue, use of glucocorticoids or other anti-inflammatory agents for idiopathic IBDs (inflammatory bowel diseases), adsorptive agents such as cholestyramine

for ileal bile acid malabsorption etc. Other examples are use of proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole for the gastric hypersecretion of gastrinomas, somatostatin analogues such as octreotide for malignant carcinoid syndrome, prostaglandin inhibitors such as indomethacin for medullary carcinoma of the thyroid, and pancreatic enzyme replacement if there is any pancreatic insufficiency.

But if the specific cause or mechanism of chronic diarrhea can not be pinpointed, empirical therapy may be beneficial. For example loperamide, is often helpful in mild or moderate watery diarrhea. For those with more severe diarrhea, codeine or tincture of opium may be beneficial. Such antimotility agents should be avoided with IBD, as there may be precipitation of toxic megacolon. Clonidine, an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist, may allow control of diabetic diarrhea.

General measures:

Fluid and electrolyte replacement is an important and essential component of management for all cases of chronic diarrhea. Replacement of fat-soluble vitamins may also be necessary in patients with chronic steatorrhea (lipids can not be absorbed or fat malabsorption).

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