Diarrhea

Diarrhea

Problem

Is this your symptom?

  • Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the frequency and looseness of bowel movements (BMs)

  • Mild diarrhea is the passage of a few loose or mushy BMs

  • Severe diarrhea is the passage of many watery BMs

If NOT, try one of these:

What to Do

Select the First Symptom that Applies

Call 911 Now

  • Very weak (can't stand)

  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Go to ER Now

  • Severe stomach pain

  • Constant stomach pain lasts more than 2 hours

  • Bloody or black stools

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • You feel dehydrated (dizzy, dry mouth, very thirsty)

  • Fever over 103° F (39.4° C)

  • More than 10 loose stools in the past 24 hours

  • You feel weak or very sick

  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Fever over 100.4° F (38.0° C)

  • Stomach pain that does not get better after each diarrhea stool

  • Mucus or pus in stool for more than 2 days

  • Small amount of blood in stool

  • Recent use of antibiotics

  • Have diabetes

  • Have a weak immune system (HIV, cancer chemo, long-term steroid use, splenectomy)

  • Traveled abroad in the past month

  • Getting tube feedings (nasogastric, g-tube, j-tube)

  • Over 70 years old

  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Diarrhea lasts more than 7 days

  • Diarrhea off and on for weeks or months (are frequent, come and go)

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild diarrhea

Care Advice for Mild Diarrhea

  1. What You Should Know:

    • Diarrhea lasting less than 2 weeks is often from an infection in the intestines. Most often it is a virus. Diarrhea is the body's way of getting rid of the infection. Other causes of new onset diarrhea are food poisoning and drugs.

    • Staying hydrated is very important if you have diarrhea.

    • Wash your hands after each bowel movement.

    • You can treat mild diarrhea at home.

    • Here is some care advice that should help.

  2. Fluids:

    • Drink more fluids, at least 8-10 glasses (8 oz.) a day.

    • Fluids include sports drinks, fruit juices mixed with water, and soft drinks.

    • Also eat saltine crackers or soups. This helps your body get more fluids and salt.

    • Avoid drinks with caffeine. These can dehydrate you.

  3. Diet:

    • You should try to eat some food when you have diarrhea. The latest research shows it helps you and your intestines get better.

    • Ideal foods are boiled starches/cereals. These include potatoes, rice, noodles, wheat, and oats. You can add a small amount of salt to them.

    • Other good foods are bananas, yogurt, crackers, and soup.

    • As your stools return to normal, go back to your normal diet.

    • Avoid greasy or spicy foods if you have diarrhea.

  4. Diarrhea Medicine:

    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have diarrhea: bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol) or loperamide (Imodium).

    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that help reduce diarrhea. You can buy them at the drugstore.

    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your diarrhea better.

    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.

  5. What to Expect: Viral diarrhea lasts 4-7 days. It is always worse on days 1 and 2.

  6. Call Your Doctor If:

    • You are dehydrated (dizzy, dry mouth, very thirsty)

    • Diarrhea lasts more than 7 days

    • You think you need to be seen

    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Causes and Background Information

Some Basics...

  • Diarrhea lasting for less than 2 weeks is often from an infection in the intestines. Most often it is a virus. Diarrhea is the body's way of getting rid of the infection. Other causes of new onset diarrhea are food poisoning and drugs.

  • Staying hydrated is the most important thing for adults with diarrhea.

  • An adult who feels well and is not thirsty or dizzy is not dehydrated. A few loose or runny stools do not cause dehydration. Having many watery stools can cause dehydration.

  • Antibiotics are usually not needed to treat diarrhea.

  • However, people who have Traveler's Diarrhea should get antibiotic treatment. If a person has traveled abroad in the past month and has diarrhea, they may need antibiotics.

What Are Signs of Dehydration?

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Feeling dizzy

  • Dry mouth

  • Feeling like fainting

  • Very thirsty

  • Pale skin

  • No urine in more than 12 hours

  • Dark yellow urine

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Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.