Diarrhea describes loose, watery stools that occur more frequently than usual. Diarrhea is something everyone experiences. Diarrhea often means more frequent trips to the toilet and a greater volume of stool.
In most cases, diarrhea signs and symptoms usually last a couple of days. But sometimes diarrhea can last for weeks. In these situations, diarrhea can be a sign of a serious disorder, such as inflammatory bowel disease, or a less serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Diarrhea may cause a loss of significant amounts of water and salts. Most cases of diarrhea go away without treatment. But see your doctor if diarrhea persists, if you become dehydrated or if you pass blood in your stool.
Colon and small intestine
The small intestine and colon are components of your digestive tract, which processes the foods you eat. The small intestine and colon extract nutrients from the foods. What isn't absorbed by the ...
Signs and symptoms associated with diarrhea may include:
When to see a doctor
In children, particularly young children, diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration. Call your doctor if your child's diarrhea doesn't improve within 24 hours or if your baby:
Diarrhea occurs when the food and fluids you ingest pass too quickly or in too large an amount — or both — through your colon. Normally, your colon absorbs liquids from the food you eat, leaving a semisolid stool. But if the liquids from the foods you eat aren't absorbed, the result is a watery bowel movement.
A number of diseases and conditions can cause diarrhea. Common causes of diarrhea include:
Preparing for your appointment
Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. If you have persistent diarrhea, your doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in the digestive system (gastroenterologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help make the most of your visit. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For diarrhea, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Tests and procedures used to determine what's causing your diarrhea may include:
Treatments and drugs
Most cases of diarrhea clear on their own within a couple of days without treatment. If you've tried lifestyle changes and home remedies for diarrhea without success, your doctor may recommend medications or other treatments.
Treatment to replace fluids
Water is a good way to replace fluids, but it doesn't contain the salts and electrolytes — minerals such as sodium and potassium — you need in order to maintain the electric currents that keep your heart beating. Disruption of your body's fluid and mineral levels creates an electrolyte imbalance that can be serious. You can help maintain your electrolyte levels by drinking fruit juices for potassium or eating soups for sodium.
Adjusting medications you're taking
Treating underlying conditions
Lifestyle and home remedies
Most diarrhea clears up on its own within a few days. To help you cope with your signs and symptoms until they go away, try to:
Some research suggests that probiotics — foods and supplements containing beneficial bacteria — may help treat diarrhea, particularly viral diarrhea in children. Helpful bacteria live in your digestive tract, where they help digest your food and protect you from harmful bacteria. Probiotics contain strains of living bacteria that are similar to the ones normally found in your digestive system.
Probiotic foods, such as yogurt, cheese, miso and tempeh, are generally safe to eat and may help. Side effects of probiotics might include gas and bloating.
Preventing viral diarrhea
Preventing diarrhea from contaminated food
Preventing traveler's diarrhea
Last Updated: 2010-06-26
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