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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 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
Check your symptoms to decide if and
when you should see a doctor.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Blood in the stool can come from
anywhere in the digestive tract, such as the stomach or intestines. Depending
on where the blood is coming from and how fast it is moving, it may be bright
red, reddish brown, or black like tar.
A little bit of bright red
blood on the stool or on the toilet paper is often caused by mild irritation of
the rectum. For example, this can happen if you have to strain hard to pass a
stool or if you have a hemorrhoid.
Certain medicines and foods can affect the color of stool. Diarrhea
medicines (such as Pepto-Bismol) and iron tablets can make the stool black.
Eating lots of beets may turn the stool red. Eating foods with black or dark
blue food coloring can turn the stool black.
If you take a medicine that affects the blood's ability to clot, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), or clopidogrel (Plavix), it can cause some blood in your stools. If you take a blood thinner and have ongoing blood in your stools, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
An illness plan for people with diabetes usually covers things like:
The plan is designed to help keep your diabetes in control even
though you are sick. When you have diabetes, even a minor illness can cause
It is easy for your diabetes to become out of control when
you are sick. Because of an illness:
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause
diarrhea. A few examples are:
Severe dehydration means:
Moderate dehydration means:
Mild dehydration means:
You can get dehydrated when
you lose a lot of fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to severe. For
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Symptoms of serious illness may
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it.
For adults and children age 12 and older, these are the ranges for high,
moderate, and mild, according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth) temperature
Ear or rectal temperature
Armpit (axillary) temperature
If you're not sure if a fever is high, moderate, or mild,
think about these issues:
With a high fever:
With a moderate fever:
With a mild fever:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Based on your answers, you need
or other emergency services now.
Home treatment can help you treat
your diarrhea and avoid other related problems, such as
If you are
pregnant, talk with your doctor before taking any medicines for
Nonprescription medicines may be helpful in treating your
diarrhea. Follow these tips when taking a nonprescription medicine for
There are several types of antidiarrheal medicines: those
that absorb water and thicken the stool, and those that slow intestinal
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
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
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
Current as of:
June 4, 2014
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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