GI Problems FAQs

Diarrhea


What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is loose, watery stools that pass three or more times a day. Acute diarrhea lasts 1 or 2 days and goes away on its own but diarrhea lasting more than 2 days may be a sign of a more serious problem.

What causes diarrhea?
Acute diarrhea is usually caused by a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection. Chronic diarrhea is usually related to a functional disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome or an intestinal disease such as Crohn’s disease. The most common causes of diarrhea are:

  • Bacterial infections-bacteria consumed through contaminated food or water.
  • Viral infections-such as rotavirus, norovirus, or herpes simplex virus.
  • Parasites-enter the body through food or water.
  • Functional bowel disorders-symptom of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Intestinal diseases-such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • Food intolerances-difficulty digesting ingredients like sugar found in milk or milk products (lactose intolerant).
  • Reaction to medicines-such as antibiotics or cancer drugs.

When should adults with diarrhea see a doctor?

  • Signs of dehydration
  • Diarrhea for more than 2 days
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • Afever of 102 degrees or higher
  • Stools containing blood or pus
  • Stools that are black and tarry

How is diarrhea diagnosed?

  • Medical history and physical exam
  • Stool culture
  • Blood tests
  • Fasting tests
  • Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy

How is diarrhea treated?
Typically diarrhea is caused by dehydration, by replacing the lost fluids should help treat the problem.  There are over-the-counter medicines that will help stop diarrhea like loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate).

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