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What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the passage of many loose, watery or unformed bowel movements. This is a symptom, not a disease. Simple diarrhea is common among all age groups.

What are common signs and symptoms of diarrhea?

  • Cramping abdominal pain.
  • Loose, watery or unformed bowel movements.
  • Lack of bowel control (sometimes).
  • Fever (sometimes).
  • What are the causes of diarrhea?

    There are many causes including infections (viral, parasitic or bacterial).


    • Emotional upsets or acute stress.
    • Food poisoning.
    • Regional enteritis.
    • Malabsorption syndromes.
    • Disease or tumor of the pancreas (malignant or benign)
    • Diverticulitis.
    • Foods, such as prunes or beans.
    • Excess alcohol consumption.
    • Use of drugs, such as laxatives, antacids, antibiotics, qui. nine or anticancer drugs.
    • Food allergy.
    • Radiation treatments for cancer.
    • Recent illness.
    • Crowded or unsanitary living conditions.
    • Immunosuppression due to illness or drugs.
    • Travel to foreign country.
    • Ingestion of water from streams, springs or untested wells.


    • If diarrhea is recurrent and a cause can be identified, treatment or avoidance of the cause should prevent recurrence.
    • Everyone is likely to have bouts of diarrhea occasionally from insignificant causes which disappear and leave no lasting effects. Most cases of acute diarrhea last a short time and a search for the cause may not be necessary.
    • Avoid undercooked or raw seafood, buffet or picnic foods left out several hours, and food served by street vendors.


    Spontaneous recovery in 24 to 48 hours.


    Dehydration if diarrhea is prolonged, especially in infants.

    How is diarrhea treated?


    • Diagnostic tests may include a laboratory study of the stool. A detailed history about the symptoms, time and duration of diarrhea, the severity, and the patient’s general health can help determine a cause. If there is evidence of a more serious disorder, further medical tests may be conducted.
    • Diarrhea is a symptom. If possible, the underlying disorder could be treated.
    • If you think a prescription drug is causing the diarrhea, consult with the doctor before discontinuing it.
    • If cramps are present, place hot compresses, a hot-water bottle or an electric heating pad on the abdomen.
    • Maintain fluid intake. Severe diarrhea may require urgent fluid and electrolyte replacement to correct dehydration.


    • For minor discomfort, you may use non-prescription drugs such as Pepto-Bismol or loperamide (brand name Imodium).
    • Other anti-diarrhea medications may be prescribed.
    • Antibiotics may be prescribed if a particular parasite or bacteria is identified.


    • Decrease activity until diarrhea stops.


    • If diarrhea is accompanied by nausea, suck ice chips only. If you are not nauseated, drink small amounts of clear liquids only, such as herbal tea, ginger ale, broth or gelatin until diarrhea stops.
    • Avoid alcohol caffeine, milk and dairy products.
    • After symptoms disappear, eat soft foods, such as cooked cereal, rice, eggs, custard, baked potato and yogurt for 1 or 2 days.
    • Resume a normal diet 2 or 3 days after the diarrhea stops.
    • Avoid fruit, alcohol and highly seasoned foods for several more days.