Diarrhea - overview

Definition

Diarrhea is when you pass loose or watery stool.

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.

Diarrhea in babies and children can be serious. It needs to be treated differently than you would treat diarrhea in adults.

Talk with your health care provider if your child has diarrhea. There can be a lot to know. Your provider can help you learn how to recognize and treat diarrhea in babies and in children.

Causes

The most common cause of diarrhea is the stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis). This mild viral infection most often 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:

People who travel to developing countries can get diarrhea from unclean water or food that has not been handled safely. Plan ahead by learning the risks and treatment for traveler's diarrhea before your trip.

Home Care

Most times, you can treat diarrhea at home. You will need to learn:

Avoid medicines for diarrhea that you can buy without a prescription, unless your provider 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 provider right away if you or your child shows signs of dehydration:

Call for an appointment with your provider if you have:

Also call your provider if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms.

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

This is also a good time to ask your provider any questions you have about 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:


Review Date: 12/1/2016
Reviewed By: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information 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. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.