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Diarrhea (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care

Diarrhea can usually be treated with home care. In some cases, it may become more severe. A person should go to a hospital emergency department in the following situations:

  • if the person has diarrhea along with high fever, moderate-to-severe abdominal pain, or dehydration that cannot be managed by drinking fluids;
  • if the diarrhea appears to contain blood (it may be bright red or may look like black, thick tar); or
  • if the person is sleepy and is not acting like their usual selves (others may notice this and take the person to the emergency department).

Call a health care professional if a person has any of these complications:

  • vomiting and inability to tolerate any food or drink;
  • signs of dehydration;
  • high fever, significant abdominal pain, frequent loose bowel movements, or bloody diarrhea;
  • if he or she is elderly or has serious underlying medical problems, particularly diabetes, heart, kidney, or liver disease, or HIV or AIDS (contact a health care professional when diarrhea first begins as the person may be at higher risk for developing complications);
  • a parent or caregiver needs advice about preventing dehydration in newborns and infants;
  • symptoms do not improve in two to three days or appear to become worse; or
  • if he or she develops diarrhea after travel within their home country, or foreign travel.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/10/2014
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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).

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