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What Is the Connection between Diarrhea and Acidosis?

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  • Written By: H. Colledge
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2016
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Diarrhea is a disorder in which excessive amounts of stools are passed from the body, which are typically loose and watery. As diarrhea usually contains large amounts of bicarbonate, this can cause an imbalance in the body's pH. Bicarbonate is alkaline, so its loss leads to a condition known as acidosis, where the blood is too acidic. For this reason, diarrhea is one of the causes of acidosis and that is how the connection between diarrhea and acidosis arises.

Many of the juices that are released into the gut are alkaline. These come from organs such as the pancreas and gallbladder, and the fact that they are alkaline helps to neutralize the acid from the stomach. Normally, much of the bicarbonate from these alkaline juices is absorbed back into the gut, so that only a small amount passes out of the body in stools. When a person contracts diarrhea, the amount of bicarbonate lost increases hugely as much larger quantities of stools are passed. This makes acidosis more likely to occur.

There are a number of causes of this condition, with perhaps the most common being an infection of the gut. Infections may be caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. The symptoms of acidosis, which include weakness, headaches and confusion, may be masked by the symptoms of the infection causing the diarrhea. Other causes of diarrhea and acidosis include long-term problems such as irritable bowel disease, celiac disease and Crohn's disease.

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When diarrhea and acidosis occur together, acidosis treatment usually consists of treating the underlying condition that is causing the diarrhea. Once that has been corrected, and the diarrhea ceases, the acidosis should also right itself. People with diarrhea and acidosis may be dehydrated as a result of losing large volumes of fluid in their stools. In order to manage this, fluids may be given to patients, and there may also be a need for potassium, which is often lost in diarrhea.

One method of managing acidosis is to give patients bicarbonate. This is given to make up for all of the bicarbonate which has been lost and to balance the pH by making the blood more alkaline. For patients with diarrhea and acidosis, this type of treatment is not usually necessary because, once the diarrhea has been treated, the kidneys are usually able to correct the acidosis. After suffering from diarrhea and acidosis, patients should avoid passing on any infection by staying away from work or school for at least 48 hours and washing their hands carefully.

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