Diarrhea is when you pass loose or watery stool.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
Stools - watery; Frequent bowel movements; Loose bowel movements
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.
Updated 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.
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