Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
Diarrhea is a condition that’s characterized by the appearance of loose, watery stools or a frequent need to have a bowel movement. It usually lasts a few days and often disappears without any treatment.
Diarrhea may be related to a viral or bacterial infection and is sometimes the result of food poisoning. The condition commonly known as traveler’s diarrhea occurs when you’ve been exposed to bacteria or parasites while on vacation to developing countries.
Chronic diarrhea refers to diarrhea that lasts for at least four weeks and is usually the result of an intestinal disease or disorder.
Diarrhea may be caused by a variety of conditions or elements, including:
Chronic diarrhea may be a symptom of a more serious condition such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Frequent and severe diarrhea could be a sign of intestinal disease or functional bowel disorder.
There are many different symptoms of diarrhea that can occur in any combination. The symptoms depend on the cause. You may experience:
Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms.
A doctor will complete a physical examination and consider your medical history when determining the cause of your diarrhea. They may also request laboratory tests to examine urine and blood samples. Additional tests your doctor may order to determine the cause of diarrhea and other related conditions can include:
In cases of severe or chronic diarrhea, your doctor may order a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to determine if an underlying intestinal condition is the cause.
Diarrhea can cause you to lose fluids quickly and put you at risk for dehydration. If diarrhea is left untreated, it can be very serious. The symptoms of dehydration include:
If you think your diarrhea is causing you to become dehydrated, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment for diarrhea usually requires replacing lost fluids. This simply means you need to drink more water or electrolyte replacement beverages such as sports drinks. In more serious cases, you may get fluids through intravenous (IV) therapy. If a bacterial infection is causing your diarrhea, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
Your doctor will decide your treatment based on:
Diarrhea is a serious condition in the very young. It can cause severe dehydration in an infant in just one day.
Call your child’s doctor or seek emergency care for the following symptoms:
Although diarrhea can occur for various reasons, there are actions that you can take to prevent it.
Avoid developing diarrhea from food poisoning by:
Traveler’s diarrhea is also preventable. If you’re planning a long vacation to a developing country, consider doing the following:
If you have diarrhea that was caused by a viral or bacterial infection, take these actions to prevent spreading the infection to others:
Written by: Valencia Higuera
Published on: Oct 05, 2015
Medically reviewed on: Mar 07, 2016: [Ljava.lang.Object;@47f0930
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.
Members can earn 50 points per $1 spent on select health & wellness products at Walgreens.
Members save 15% on easy listening devices and more at the HearUSA Hearing Shop.
Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at Target Optical.
Brain boost? Get AARP email for access to memory exercises & more that help you focus.