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What Is Diarrhea?


Diarrhea is loose, watery stools. Having diarrhea means passing loose stools 3 or more times a day. Diarrhea that lasts longer than 4 weeks is considered long-lasting (chronic). Symptoms of chronic diarrhea may be continual or may come and go. People of all ages can get diarrhea. Body fluid loss (dehydration) may occur as a result. This means the body does not have as many fluids and salts (electrolytes) as it needs.


What Causes Diarrhea?


There are many causes of chronic diarrhea. Causes may be different for children and adults. Various causes can be grouped into 2 categories: diarrhea caused by infection and diarrhea not caused by infection. Sometimes, the cause is unknown.

Diarrhea caused by an infection may result from:

  • Parasites, bacteria, or viruses

Diarrhea not caused by an infection may result from:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

  • Reaction to Medicines (like antibiotics, cancer drugs (chemotherapy), blood pressure medicines, and antacids)

  • Intestinal Disease (Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac Disease)

  • Food allergies or sensitivity to additives (fructose, lactose, sugar substitutes)

  • Tumors

  • Diabetes, thyroid disease, and other systemic diseases that weaken your immune system (e.g. HIV/AIDS)

  • Previous surgery or radiation of the abdomen or gastrointestinal tract (e.g. gallbladder removal, stomach or bowel surgery, etc.)

  • Travelling to countries where food and water supplies are often contaminated


What are the Symptoms of Diarrhea?


In addition to frequent, loose stools, diarrhea may cause:

  • Cramping and abdominal pain, nausea, and urgent need to use the bathroom (or loss of bowel control)

  • Dehydration (thirst, less frequent urination, dry skin, fatigue, dizziness, dry skin)

  • Infections that cause diarrhea may also cause fever, chills, or bloody stools


How is Diarrhea Diagnosed?


Diagnosis may be difficult. Your caregiver must take a careful history and perform a physical exam. Tests may include:

  • Blood or stool tests (stool cultures may be used to test for bacteria or parasites); X-rays

  • A procedure in which a thin tube is inserted into the rectum to look inside the intestine (colonoscopy)


How is Diarrhea Treated?

  • Diarrhea caused by infection can often be treated with antibiotics

  • Diarrhea not caused by infection is more difficult to diagnose and treat. Long-term medicine use or surgery may be required, depending on the cause.

  • If the cause cannot be determined, treatment to relieve symptoms includes:

  • Preventing dehydration. Many oral rehydration solutions are available at drug stores

  • Not drinking beverages that contain caffeine (coffee, tea, pop), or alcohol (it causes dehydration)

  • Maintain a well-balanced nutrition. This may help you recover faster. Avoid fatty foods and raw meats

  • Avoid high fiber diet (i.e. low-residue diet)

  • Consider adding Probiotics to your diet

  • If you have problems digesting lactose, you may try yogurt instead (better tolerated)



  • Drink clean or purified water

  • Use proper food handling techniques (cook your meat well)

  • Maintain proper hand-washing habits

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