Diarrhea occurs when there is an increase in the number of bowel movements or bowel movements are more watery and loose than normal. When the intestines push stools through the bowel before the water in the stool can be reabsorbed, diarrhea occurs. It can also occur when inflammation of the bowel lining causes excess fluid to leak into the stool. Abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or a fever may occur along with the diarrhea.
Diarrhea is one of the most commonly occurring health problems affecting all ages. Most adults will have 4 episodes of diarrhea each year. Diarrhea that comes on suddenly may last up to 14 days.
Diarrhea has many causes.
Many times the exact cause of diarrhea is hard to determine. Almost everyone has an occasional bout of diarrhea. Although diarrhea is annoying, most cases are not serious and will clear up with home treatment.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Home treatment can help you treat your diarrhea and avoid other related problems, such as dehydration.
If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor before taking any medicines for diarrhea.
Nonprescription medicines may be helpful in treating your diarrhea. Follow these tips when taking a nonprescription medicine for diarrhea:
There are several types of antidiarrheal medicines: those that absorb water and thicken the stool, and those that slow intestinal spasms.
Learn how to clean up diarrhea safely. Protect your hands with gloves while cleaning up. Wash your hands after you are done cleaning up.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Food poisoning is a common cause of diarrhea in children and adults. Most cases of food poisoning may be prevented by taking a few precautions when preparing and storing food at home. Perishable foods, such as eggs, meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and milk products, should be treated with extra care. Also, precautions should be taken if you are pregnant, have an impaired immune system or a chronic illness, or are preparing foods for other high-risk groups, such as young children or older adults.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the following steps to prevent food poisoning:
Many counties in the United States have extension services listed in the phone book. These services can answer your question about safe home canning and food preparation.
When you travel in wilderness areas or to other countries of the world, it is common to get traveler's diarrhea from food or water because the methods of food preparation are different.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
|Primary Medical Reviewer||William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Last Revised||April 5, 2012|
Last Revised: April 5, 2012
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