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Diarrhea (cont.)

What is the Medical Treatment for Severe Diarrhea?

If a person has severe diarrhea they should contact their doctor or go to Urgent Care because medical treatment may be necessary.

To replace fluids, the health care professional will often start an IV line if the patient is dehydrated and can't eat or drink. IV solutions will replace the lost fluids and electrolytes, and often brings quick relief.


Antibiotics will get not rid of diarrhea caused by viruses. Even the more severe diarrhea caused by bacteria will usually go away in a few days without antibiotics. Antibiotics appear to make some bacterial diarrhea worse, specifically those caused by the E coli bacterium (often a source of food poisoning).

In some cases, antibiotics may benefit some adults with diarrhea. If selected carefully, antibiotics may decrease the severity of illness and shorten the duration of symptoms. If a person has recently traveled to another country or has been camping (and may have been exposed to contaminated water in the wilderness), a health care professional may prescribe specific medication used to treat traveler's diarrhea for certain intestinal parasites.


If a person has severe diarrhea, especially accompanied with dehydration, he or she may require hospitalization to receive IV fluids and to be observed.

How Can It Be Prevented?

Many cases of diarrhea are spread from person-to-person. The following precautions can help an individual avoid diarrhea and other viral or bacterial infections:

  • Individuals caring for sick children or adults in any setting should carefully wash their hands after changing diapers, helping an individual use the bathroom, or assisting an individual around the home.
  • Children should be instructed to wash their hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom.

Practice safe food handling. Always wash hands before and after handling food.

  • Use care when preparing raw poultry or meat. Food should be cooked to the recommended temperatures. Avoid raw or rare meat and poultry. Utensils coming in contact with raw food should be cleaned in soap and hot water.
  • Fruits and vegetables consumed raw should be thoroughly rinsed in clean water.
  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk may be contaminated with bacteria and should always be avoided. Unpasteurized fruit juice or cider should generally be avoided even if the source is not known because the fruit may have come in contact with contaminated animal feces in the orchard.
  • Use caution when traveling, especially to foreign countries. Do not eat foods from street vendors. Don't drink water or drinks with ice cubes made from tap water if the country is deemed unsafe. Check the Travelers' Health Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for travel information for your destination.

What's the Prognosis for Severe Diarrhea?

  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Follow the advice of your doctor or health care professional.
  • If your diarrhea gets worse, or if you have a high fever, abdominal pain, or bloody stools contact your doctor or health care professional again.
  • Abdominal pain, cramping, and other problems should begin to improve two to three days after the original episode of diarrhea. You may have loose stools longer than the other symptoms.
  • Serious disease usually is seen in people who become severely dehydrated, particularly infants, the elderly, or other people with significant medical illnesses.


Author Christine A Wanke, MD. Travelers' diarrhea. Microbiology, epidemiology, and prevention. UpToDate. Jul 26 2015

American Cancer Society. Diarrhea. Jul 26, 2015

Arnold Wald, MD. Factitious diarrhea. UpToDate. Apr 23, 2015

Chiba, T. et al. Alcohol-related diarrhea. Apr 01, 2015

Christine A Wanke, MD. Patient information: Acute diarrhea in adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Aug 06, 2015

National Cancer Institute. Gastrointestinal Complications–for health professionals (PDQ). Jun 26, 2015.

Murao, MD, PHD, et al. Serotonin 5-HT3 Receptor Antagonist for Treatment of Severe Diabetic Diarrhea. Mar, 2010

Riddoch, C. et al. Gastrointestinal Disturbances in Marathon Runners. BritJ.Sports Med. June 1988.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017
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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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