Learn About Diarrhea

What is the definition of Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is when you pass loose or watery stool.

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What are the alternative names for Diarrhea?

Stools - watery; Frequent bowel movements; Loose bowel movements; Unformed bowel movements

What is some background information about Diarrhea?

In some people, diarrhea is mild and goes away in a few days. In other people, it may last longer.

Diarrhea can make you feel weak and dehydrated.

Diarrhea in babies and children can be serious. It needs to be treated differently than you would treat diarrhea in adults.

Talk with your health care provider if your child has diarrhea. There can be a lot to know. Your provider can help you learn how to recognize and treat diarrhea in babies and in children.

What are the causes of Diarrhea?

The most common cause of diarrhea is the stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis). This mild viral infection most often goes away on its own within a few days.

Eating or drinking food or water that contains certain types of bacteria or parasites can also lead to diarrhea. This problem may be called food poisoning.

Certain medicines may also cause diarrhea, including:

  • Some antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy drugs for cancer
  • Laxatives containing magnesium

Diarrhea may also be caused by medical disorders, such as:

  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Lactose intolerance (which causes problems after drinking milk and eating other dairy products)
  • Malabsorption syndromes

Less common causes of diarrhea include:

  • Carcinoid syndrome
  • Disorders of the nerves that supply the intestines
  • Removal of part of the stomach (gastrectomy) or small intestine
  • Radiation therapy

People who travel to developing countries can get diarrhea from unclean water or food that has not been handled safely. Plan ahead by learning the risks and treatment for traveler's diarrhea before your trip.

How do I perform a home exam for a Diarrhea?

Most times, you can treat diarrhea at home. You will need to learn:

  • To drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration (when your body does not have the proper amount of water and fluids)
  • Which foods you should or should not eat
  • What to do if you are breastfeeding
  • What danger signs to watch out for

Avoid medicines for diarrhea that you can buy without a prescription unless your provider tells you to use them. These drugs can make some infections worse.

If you have a long-term form of diarrhea, such as diarrhea caused by irritable bowel syndrome, changes to your diet and lifestyle may help.

When should I contact a medical professional for Diarrhea?

Contact your provider right away if you or your child shows signs of dehydration:

  • Decreased urine (fewer wet diapers in infants)
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Few tears when crying

Schedule an appointment with your provider if you have:

  • Blood or pus in your stools
  • Black stools
  • Stomach pain that does not go away after a bowel movement
  • Diarrhea with a fever above 101°F or 38.33°C (100.4°F or 38°C in children)
  • Recently traveled to a foreign country and developed diarrhea

Also contact your provider if:

  • The diarrhea gets worse or does not get better in 2 days for an infant or child, or 5 days for adults
  • A child over 3 months old has been vomiting for more than 12 hours; in younger babies, call as soon as vomiting or diarrhea begins
What should I expect during a doctor appointment?

Your provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history and symptoms.

Lab tests may be done on your stools to find the cause of your diarrhea.

This is also a good time to ask your provider any questions you have about diarrhea.

Over-the-counter supplements that contain healthy bacteria may help prevent diarrhea caused by taking antibiotics. These are called probiotics. Yogurt with active or live cultures is also a good source of these healthy bacteria.

The following healthy steps can help you prevent illnesses that cause diarrhea:

  • Wash your hands often, particularly after using the toilet and before eating.
  • Use alcohol-based hand gel frequently.
  • Teach children to not put objects in their mouth.
  • Take steps to avoid food poisoning.

When traveling to underdeveloped areas, follow the steps below to avoid diarrhea:

  • Drink only bottled water and DO NOT use ice, unless it is made from bottled or purified water.
  • DO NOT eat uncooked vegetables or fruits that do not have peels.
  • DO NOT eat raw shellfish or undercooked meat.
  • DO NOT consume dairy products.
Campylobacter jejuni organism
Digestive system
Cryptosporidium - organism
Who are the top Diarrhea Local Doctors?
Highly rated in
Internal Medicine

University Of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

1515 Holcombe Blvd 
Houston, TX 77030

Yinghong Wang is a Gastroenterologist and an Internal Medicine doctor in Houston, Texas. Dr. Wang is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Diarrhea. She is also highly rated in 14 other conditions, according to our data. Her top areas of expertise are Colitis, Diarrhea, Viral Gastroenteritis, and Pseudomembranous Colitis. She is licensed to treat patients in Texas. Dr. Wang is currently accepting new patients.

Highly rated in


Nutrition And Clinical Services Division, International Centre For Diarrhoeal Disease Research 
Dhaka, C, BD 1212

Rashidul Haque is in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Haque is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Diarrhea. They are also highly rated in 13 other conditions, according to our data. Their top areas of expertise are Diarrhea, Shigellosis, Malnutrition, and Amebiasis.

Learn about our expert tiers
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Highly rated in


Icddr, B, Formerly International Centre For Diarrhoeal Disease Research 
Dhaka, C, BD 

Munirul Alam is in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Alam is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Diarrhea. They are also highly rated in 4 other conditions, according to our data. Their top areas of expertise are Diarrhea, Cholera, Hepatic Hemangioma, and Eclampsia.

What are the latest Diarrhea Clinical Trials?
The Role of Breath Testing in Enriching the Likelihood of Response to Rifaximin in Patients With Diarrhea IBS
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ACX-362E [Ibezapolstat] for Oral Treatment of Clostridioides Difficile Infection: A Phase 2A Open-Label Segment Followed by a Phase 2B Double-Blind Vancomycin-Controlled Segment
What are the Latest Advances for Diarrhea?
Phase II study of anlotinib in combination with oxaliplatin and capecitabine for patients with RAS/BRAF wild-type metastatic colorectal adenocarcinoma as the first-line therapy.
Gastrointestinal Conditions: Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Tired of the same old research?
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Efficacy and safety of combination therapy with vildagliptin and metformin vs. metformin monotherapy for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus therapy: a meta-analysis.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date : October 28, 2020
Published By : Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Schiller LR, Sellin JH. Diarrhea.In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 16.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 131.