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Diarrhea

Definition

Diarrhea is when you pass loose or watery stool.

Alternative Names

Stools - watery; Frequent bowel movements; Loose bowel movements

Considerations

In some people, diarrhea is mild and goes away in a few days. In other people, it may last longer.

Diarrhea can make you feel weak and dehydrated.

Causes

The most common cause of diarrhea is the stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis). This mild viral infection goes away on its own within a few days.

Eating or drinking food or water that contains certain types of bacteria or parasites can also lead to diarrhea. This problem may be called food poisoning.

Certain medicines may also cause diarrhea, including:

Diarrhea may also be caused by medical disorders, such as:

Less common causes of diarrhea include:

Home Care

When you or your child has diarrhea, you will need to learn:

Avoid medicines for diarrhea that you can buy without a prescription, unless your doctor tells you to use them. These drugs can make some infections worse.

If you have a long-term form of diarrhea, such as diarrhea caused by irritable bowel syndrome, changes to your diet and lifestyle may help.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider right away if you or your child shows signs of dehydration:

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have:

Also call your doctor if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:

Lab tests may be done on your stools to determine the cause of your diarrhea.

Prevention

Over-the-counter supplements that contain healthy bacteria may help prevent diarrhea caused by taking antibiotics. These are called probiotics. Yogurt with active or live cultures is also a good source of these healthy bacteria.

The following healthy steps can help you prevent illnesses that cause diarrhea:

When traveling to underdeveloped areas, follow the steps below to avoid diarrhea:

References

Schiller RL, Sellin JH. Diarrhea. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 15.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2011:chap 142.


Review Date: 2/11/2014
Reviewed By: Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, Boca Raton, FL. Affiliate Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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