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Diarrhea

Diarrhea Quick Overview

  • Diarrhea is the frequent passage of loose, watery, soft stools with or without abdominal bloating, pressure, and cramps commonly referred to as gas or flatulence.
  • Causes of diarrhea include viral and bacterial infections, as well as parasites, intestinal disorders or diseases, reactions to medications, and food intolerance.
  • The main symptom of diarrhea is watery, liquid stools. In addition, other symptoms of diarrhea are
  • Diarrhea is usually diagnosed by the appearance of the symptoms, and no tests may need to be ordered. In some cases a doctor may order a stool culture, blood tests, a colonoscopy, or imaging tests such as X-rays or CT scans to determine an underlying cause.
  • In most cases, diarrhea can be treated at home and it will resolve itself in a few days. Drink plenty of fluids, and follow the "BRAT" diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) to help ease symptoms. Take care to ensure infants and children stay hydrated. Electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte can be helpful.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) antidiarrheal medications may provide some relief of symptoms, including loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, etc.). Consult your doctor before treating diarrhea with these drugs, as some people may need to avoid them. Do not give them to children under 5 years of age.
  • The prognosis for diarrhea is generally good and in most cases symptoms will resolve in a few days.

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the frequent passage of loose, watery, soft stools with or without abdominal bloating, pressure, and cramps commonly referred to as gas. Diarrhea can come on suddenly, run its course, and be helped with home care to prevent complications such as dehydration.

  • Diarrhea is one of the most common illnesses in all age groups and ranks along with the common cold as a main cause of lost days of work or school.
    • People of all ages can suffer from diarrhea, and the average adult has one episode of acute diarrhea per year, and young children average two acute episodes per year.
  • Diarrhea and related complications can cause severe illness. The most significant cause of severe illness is loss of water and electrolytes. In diarrhea, fluid passes out of the body before it can be absorbed by the intestines. When the ability to drink fluids fast enough to compensate for the water loss because of diarrhea is impaired, dehydration can result. Most deaths from diarrhea occur in the very young and the elderly whose health may be put at risk from a moderate amount of dehydration.
  • Diarrhea can be further defined in the following ways:
    • chronic diarrhea is the presence of loose or liquid stools for over two weeks;
    • acute enteritis is inflammation of the intestine;
    • gastroenteritis (stomach flu) is diarrhea associated with nausea and vomiting; or
    • dysentery is diarrhea that contains blood, pus, or mucus.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/5/2015
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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Diarrhea »

Acute diarrhea is defined as the abrupt onset of abnormally high fluid content in the stool (more than the normal value of approximately 10 mL/kg/d).

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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