What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is loose, watery stools that pass three or more times a day. Acute diarrhea lasts 1 or 2 days and goes away on its own but diarrhea lasting more than 2 days may be a sign of a more serious problem.
What causes diarrhea?
Acute diarrhea is usually caused by a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection. Chronic diarrhea is usually related to a functional disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome or an intestinal disease such as Crohn’s disease. The most common causes of diarrhea are:
- Bacterial infections-bacteria consumed through contaminated food or water.
- Viral infections-such as rotavirus, norovirus, or herpes simplex virus.
- Parasites-enter the body through food or water.
- Functional bowel disorders-symptom of irritable bowel syndrome.
- Intestinal diseases-such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
- Food intolerances-difficulty digesting ingredients like sugar found in milk or milk products (lactose intolerant).
- Reaction to medicines-such as antibiotics or cancer drugs.
When should adults with diarrhea see a doctor?
- Signs of dehydration
- Diarrhea for more than 2 days
- Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
- Afever of 102 degrees or higher
- Stools containing blood or pus
- Stools that are black and tarry
How is diarrhea diagnosed?
- Medical history and physical exam
- Stool culture
- Blood tests
- Fasting tests
- Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy
How is diarrhea treated?
Typically diarrhea is caused by dehydration, by replacing the lost fluids should help treat the problem. There are over-the-counter medicines that will help stop diarrhea like loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate).