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Diarrhea | Causes | Symptoms | Treatments

Diarrhea

When you have diarrhea, your bowel movements (or stools) are loose and watery. It’s very general and usually not serious.

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Many people get diarrhea once or twice each year. It normally lasts 2 to 3 days, and you can treat it with over-the-counter medicines. Some people get it more often as part of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other conditions.

Symptoms of diarrhea

Diarrhea – loose and watery stools – is itself a symptom of other situations. However, it may be accompanied by other symptoms, including:

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  • Stomach pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

Some symptoms are considered indicators of a more serious illness – blood or pus, fever, signs of dehydration, importunate vomiting, chronic diarrhea, or weight loss.

Causes

Generally, diarrhea is caused by a virus that infects your gut. Some people call it “intestinal flu” or “stomach flu.”

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Other causes include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Allergies to certain foods
  • Diabetes
  • Diseases of the intestines (such as Crohn’s illness or ulcerative colitis)
  • Eating foods that upset the digestive system
  • Infection by bacteria (the cause of most types of food poisoning) or other organisms
  • Laxative abuse
  • Medications
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Running (Some people get “runner’s diarrhea” for reasons that aren’t clear)
  • Some cancers
  • Surgery on your digestive system
  • Trouble absorbing certain nutrients, also called “malabsorption”

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Diarrhea may also follow constipation, particularly for people who have irritable bowel syndrome.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor immediately if you have:

  • Blood in your diarrhea or black, tarry stools
  • A fever that is high (above 101 F) or that lasts more than 24 hours
  • Diarrhea lasting longer than 2 days
  • Nausea or throwing up that prevents you from drinking liquids to change lost fluids
  • Severe pain in your abdomen or rectum
  • Diarrhea after coming back from a foreign country

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Also, call your doctor right away if you have diarrhea and any of these signs of dehydration:

  • Dark urine
  • Smaller than usual amounts of urine or fewer wet diapers than common in a child
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Dry skin
  • Irritability
  • Confusion

Treatment

If your case is gentle, you may not need to take anything. Or you can take an over-the-counter medicine such as bismuth subsalicylate or loperamide, which are available as liquids or tablets. Follow the instructions on the package.

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You also need to stay hydrated. You should drink at least six 8-ounce glasses of fluids each day. Choose fruit juice without pulp, broth, or soda (without caffeine). Chicken broth (without the fat), tea with honey, and sports drinks are also good choices. Instead of drinking liquids with your meals, drink liquids between meals. Sip small amounts of fluids often.

How Can I Feel Better?

Your rectal area may become sore because of all the bowel actions diarrhea brings. And you may have itching, burning, or pain when you go to the bathroom.

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For relief, take a warm bath. Afterwards, pat the area dry (do not rub) with a clean, soft towel. You may also want to use a hemorrhoid cream or white petroleum jelly on the affected area.

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