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Health    Diarrhea
Also called: Dysentery, The runs, The trots
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What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is loose, watery stools (bowel movements). You have diarrhea if you have loose stools three or more times in one day. Acute diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts a short time. It is a common problem. It usually lasts about one or two days, but it may last longer. Then it goes away on its own.

Diarrhea lasting more than a few days may be a sign of a more serious problem. Chronic diarrhea -- diarrhea that lasts at least four weeks -- can be a symptom of a chronic disease. Chronic diarrhea symptoms may be continual, or they may come and go.

Who gets diarrhea?

People of all ages can get diarrhea. On average, adults In the United States have acute diarrhea once a year. Young children have it an average of twice a year.

People who visit developing countries are at risk for traveler's diarrhea. It is caused by consuming contaminated food or water.

What causes diarrhea?

The most common causes of diarrhea include

  • Bacteria from contaminated food or water
  • Viruses such as the flu, norovirus, or rotavirus . Rotavirus is the most common cause of acute diarrhea in children.
  • Parasites, which are tiny organisms found in contaminated food or water
  • Medicines such as antibiotics, cancer drugs, and antacids that contain magnesium
  • Food intolerances and sensitivities, which are problems digesting certain ingredients or foods. An example is lactose intolerance.
  • Diseases that affect the stomach, small intestine, or colon, such as Crohn's disease
  • Problems with how the colon functions, such as irritable bowel syndrome

Some people also get diarrhea after stomach surgery, because sometimes the surgeries can cause food to move through your digestive system more quickly.

Sometimes no cause can be found. If your diarrhea goes away within a few days, finding the cause is usually not necessary.

What other symptoms might I have with diarrhea?

Other possible symptoms of diarrhea include

  • Cramps or pain in the abdomen
  • An urgent need to use the bathroom
  • Loss of bowel control

If a virus or bacteria is the cause of your diarrhea, you may also have a fever, chills, and bloody stools.

Diarrhea can cause dehydration, which means that your body does not have enough fluid to work properly. Dehydration can be serious, especially for children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

When should I see a doctor for diarrhea?

Although it is usually not harmful, diarrhea can become dangerous or signal a more serious problem. Contact your health care provider if you have

  • Signs of dehydration
  • Diarrhea for more than 2 days, if you are an adult. For children, contact the provider if it lasts more than 24 hours.
  • Severe pain in your abdomen or rectum (for adults)
  • A fever of 102 degrees or higher
  • Stools containing blood or pus
  • Stools that are black and tarry

If children have diarrhea, parents or caregivers should not hesitate to call a health care provider. Diarrhea can be especially dangerous in newborns and infants.

How is the cause of diarrhea diagnosed?

To find the cause of diarrhea, your health care provider may

  • Do a physical exam
  • Ask about any medicines you are taking
  • Test your stool or blood to look for bacteria, parasites, or other signs of disease or infection
  • Ask you to stop eating certain foods to see whether your diarrhea goes away

If you have chronic diarrhea, your health care provider may perform other tests to look for signs of disease.

What are the treatments for diarrhea?

Diarrhea is treated by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. Depending on the cause of the problem, you may need medicines to stop the diarrhea or treat an infection.

Adults with diarrhea should drink water, fruit juices, sports drinks, sodas without caffeine, and salty broths. As your symptoms improve, you can eat soft, bland food.

Children with diarrhea should be given oral rehydration solutions to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.

Can diarrhea be prevented?

Two types of diarrhea can be prevented - rotavirus diarrhea and traveler's diarrhea. There are vaccines for rotavirus. They are given to babies in two or three doses.

You can help prevent traveler's diarrhea by being careful about what you eat and drink when you are in developing countries:

  • Use only bottled or purified water for drinking, making ice cubes, and brushing your teeth
  • If you do use tap water, boil it or use iodine tablets
  • Make sure that the cooked food you eat is fully cooked and served hot
  • Avoid unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Symptoms of Diarrhea

The following features are indicative of Diarrhea:
  • passing watery, loose stools three or more times a day
  • an urgent need to use the bathroom
  • cramping
  • loss of control of bowel movements
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • bloody stools
  • fever
  • chills
  • lightheadedness
  • dizziness
  • vomiting

Common Causes of Diarrhea

The following are the most common causes of Diarrhea:
  • transmission of bacteria from contaminated food or water
  • viral infection
  • parasites infection
  • use of medicines that contain magnesium
  • food intolerance
  • diseases that affect small intestine, stomach and colon

Other Causes of Diarrhea

The following are the less common causes of Diarrhea:
  • improper functioning of colon
  • exposure to stomach surgeries

Risk Factors for Diarrhea

The following factors may increase the likelihood of Diarrhea:
  • recent foreign travel
  • contact with symptomatic persons
  • hospitalization
  • contact with a dog with diarrhea
  • consumption of products containing formula milk
  • prior diagnosis of several types of atopic diseases

Prevention of Diarrhea

Yes, it may be possible to prevent Diarrhea. Prevention may be possible by doing the following:
  • use only purified or bottled water for drinking
  • use boiled tap water
  • eat fully cooked and hot food
  • do not eat unwashed or unpeeled raw vegetables and fruits

Occurrence of Diarrhea

Degree of Occurrence

The following are the number of Diarrhea cases seen each year worldwide:
  • Very common > 10 Million cases

Common Age Group

Diarrhea can occur at any age.

Common Gender

Diarrhea can occur in any gender.

Lab Tests and Procedures for Diagnosis of Diarrhea

The following lab tests and procedures are used to detect Diarrhea:
  • Stool test: To check the presence of blood, parasites or bacteria
  • Blood test: To detect certain diseases or disorders
  • Hydrogen breath test: To detect lactose intolerance by measuring the amount of hydrogen in the breath
  • Fasting test: To check if an allergy or food intolerance is causing diarrhea
  • Endoscopy: To find out the cause of diarrhea

Doctor for Diagnosis of Diarrhea

Patients should visit the following specialists if they have symptoms of Diarrhea:
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Infectious disease specialist

Complications of Diarrhea if Untreated

Yes, Diarrhea causes complications if it is not treated. Below is the list of complications and problems that may arise if Diarrhea is left untreated:
  • dehydration

Procedures for Treatment of Diarrhea

The following procedures are used to treat Diarrhea:
  • Fluid replacement: Maintain your electrolyte levels by drinking fruit juices to keep your heart beating

Self-care for Diarrhea

The following self-care actions or lifestyle changes may help in the treatment or management of Diarrhea:
  • Drink plenty of fluids: Avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Eat semisolid and low-fiber foods: Helps in bowel movements return to normal
  • Avoid dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods or highly seasoned foods
  • Consider taking probiotics: Restore a healthy balance to the intestinal tract

Alternative Medicine for Treatment of Diarrhea

The following alternate medicine and therapies are known to help in the treatment or management of Diarrhea:
  • Intake of zinc supplements: Helps in treating malnourishment or zinc deficiency and lowers the incidence of diarrheal disease

Time for Treatment of Diarrhea

While time-period of treatment for each patient may vary, below is the typical time-period for Diarrhea to resolve if treated properly under an expert supervision:
  • In 1 - 4 weeks

Is Diarrhea Infectious?

Yes, Diarrhea is known to be infectious. It can spread across people via the following means:
  • contact with symptomatic persons

Last updated date

This page was last updated on 11/28/2018.
This page provides information for Diarrhea.