Stools - watery; Frequent bowel movements; Loose bowel movements
Diarrhea is loose, watery, and frequent stools. Diarrhea is considered long-term (chronic) when you have had loose or frequent stools for more than 4 weeks.
Diarrhea in in infants and children (especially under age 3) can caused dangerous dehydration very quickly.
Diarrhea in adults is usually mild and goes away quickly without complications.
The most common cause of diarrhea is viral gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu. This is a mild viral infection that goes away on its own within a few days.
Eating or drinking contaminated food or water can also lead to diarrhea. Such common causes of diarrhea include:
Certain medications may also cause diarrhea, including:
Diarrhea may also be caused by certain medical conditions, including:
Less common causes of diarrhea include:
It is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration means your body does not have the proper amount of water and fluids. Dehydration can be especially dangerous for infants and young children and people who live in a hot climate.
Signs of severe dehydration include:
Children with diarrhea should be given fluids only for the first 4 to 6 hours.
If you are breastfeeding your infant, continue to do so.
If you are using formula, use it at half strength for 2 to 3 feedings after the child's diarrhea starts. You can use the regular amount of formula after this.
Adults and older children who have diarrhea may feel better by following these steps:
Avoid over-the-counter antidiarrhea medications unless instructed to use them by your doctor. Certain infections can be made worse by these drugs.
If you have a chronic form of diarrhea, such as is caused by irritable bowel syndrome, try adding bulk to your diet to thicken your stool and regulate bowel movements. Such foods include fiber from whole-wheat grains and bran. Psyllium-containing products such as Metamucil or similar products can also add bulk to stools and help solidify them.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have:
Also call your doctor if:
Your doctor perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:
Laboratory tests may be done on your stools to determine the cause of your diarrhea. If there are signs of dehydration in addition to the diarrhea, your doctor may order:
Over-the-counter supplements that contain healthy bacteria, called probiotics, may help prevent diarrhea associated with antibiotics. Yogurt with active or live cultures is 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:
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, Powell DW. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2007:chap 143.
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