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There are 72 possible causes of diarrhea

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What Is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is a condition that is classified as the appearance of loose, watery stools and/or a frequent need to go to the bathroom. It generally lasts a few days and often disappears without any treatment.

Diarrhea may be related to a viral or bacterial infection and is sometimes the result of food poisoning. The condition commonly known as traveler’s diarrhea occurs when you’ve been exposed to bacteria or parasites while on vacation to developing countries.

Chronic diarrhea lingers for a longer period of time (at least four weeks) and is usually the result of an intestinal disease or disorder.

What Causes Diarrhea?

Diarrhea may be caused by a variety of conditions or elements, including:

  • food intolerance
  • food allergies
  • adverse reaction to medication
  • viral infections
  • bacterial infections
  • intestinal diseases
  • functional bowel disorders
  • gallbladder or stomach surgery
  • parasites

What are the Symptoms of Diarrhea?

There are many different symptoms of diarrhea. These symptoms may occur in any combination, depending on the cause of the condition. You may experience any of the following:

  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • cramping
  • bloating
  • dehydration
  • fever
  • bloody stools
  • frequent urge to evacuate the bowels
  • incontinence

Chronic diarrhea may be a symptom of more serious conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. If you are experiencing frequent severe diarrhea, you may be at risk for developing an intestinal disease or functional bowel disorder. If this is the case, tell your doctor.

Diagnosing The Cause of Diarrhea

A doctor will complete a physical examination and consider your medical history to help diagnose the cause of your diarrhea. He or she may also request laboratory tests to examine urine and blood samples. Additional tests your doctor may order to determine the cause of diarrhea and other related conditions may include:

  • fasting tests to determine whether a food intolerance or allergy is to blame
  • imaging tests to check for inflammation and structural abnormalities of the intestine
  • stool culture to check for bacteria, parasites or signs of disease
  • colonoscopy to check the entire colon for signs of intestinal disease
  • sigmoidoscopy to check the rectum and lower colon for signs of intestinal disease

In cases of severe or chronic diarrhea, your doctor may order a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to determine if an underlying intestinal condition is the cause.

Dehydration and Diarrhea

Because diarrhea causes a rapid loss of body fluids, it may put you at risk for dehydration. If left untreated, dehydration can be very serious and may even lead to death. The symptoms of dehydration include:

  • fatigue
  • dry mucous membranes
  • increased heart rate
  • headache
  • lightheadedness
  • increased thirst
  • less urination
  • dry mouth

If you think you may be becoming dehydrated as a result of diarrhea, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Treating Diarrhea

Treatment for diarrhea usually requires replacing lost fluids. This simply means you need to drink more water or electrolyte replacement beverages such as sports drinks. In more serious cases, fluids may be given intravenously. If a bacterial infection is causing your diarrhea, you doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Your doctor will determine your treatment based on:

  • the severity of the diarrhea and/or related condition
  • factors such as your health, medical history, and age
  • your ability to tolerate different procedures or medications
  • expectations for improvement of your condition

Diarrhea in Babies and Young Children

Diarrhea is serious condition in the very young. It can cause severe dehydration in an infant in just one day, and this can lead to death.

Call your child’s doctor or seek emergency care for the following symptoms:

  • signs of dehydration, including those listed above plus a lack of tears when crying, dry skin, sunken eyes or fontanel, sleepiness, and irritability
  • diarrhea for 24 hours or more
  • fever of 102 degrees or higher
  • stools that contain blood or pus
  • stools that are black and tarry

Preventing Diarrhea

Although diarrhea can occur for various reasons, there are actions that you can take to prevent it.

To avoid developing diarrhea from food poisoning, consider:

  • washing the cooking and food preparation areas more frequently
  • serving food immediately
  • refrigerating leftovers promptly
  • thawing food in the refrigerator

Traveler’s diarrhea can also be prevented. If you are planning a long vacation to a developing country, consider:

  • asking your doctor if you can begin an antibiotic treatment before you leave. This will greatly reduce your risk of developing traveler’s diarrhea.
  • avoiding tap water, ice cubes, and fresh produce likely washed with tap water. Drink bottled water and eat cooked food only.

If you are suffering from diarrhea as the result of a viral or bacterial infection, you can take the following actions to prevent spreading your infection to others:

  • Wash your hands more frequently.
  • Use soap to wash your hands for 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizer when washing your hands is not possible.

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Possible Causes - Listed in order from the most common to the least.

1

Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is caused by a number of different viruses. Its symptoms usually last for two to three days.

Read more »

2

Food Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Food poisoning occurs when you consume foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Symptoms are usually uncomfortable but not severe. Serious reactions can be life threatening and require medical treatment.

Read more »

3

Appendicitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, which can be fatal if left untreated. The telltale sign is pain that usually starts as mild cramping, especially on the right side, and becomes more severe over time.

Read more »

4

The Many Sides of Bacterial Gastroenteritis

Bacterial infections are common causes of gastrointestinal infections. This type of infection is also called "food poisoning" and is often caused by poor hygiene or ingesting foods contaminated with bacteria.

Read more »

5

Giardiasis

Giardiasis is a parasitic infection of the small intestine. It may cause fatigue, stomach pain, bloating, and excessive gas.

Read more »

6

Colitis

Colitis is inflammation of the colon, often causing discomfort and pain in the abdomen, as well as other gastrointestinal symptoms. Colitis has many possible causes, which determine the type.

Read more »

7

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and causes many uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating, gas, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and pain.

Read more »

8

Food Allergy Basics

Food allergies are overblown responses by the immune system to foods that aren't typically harmful - like eggs and peanuts. Continue reading and learn more about food allergies, and how to prevent or treat sever...

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9

Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of types 1 and 2 diabetes due to uncontrolled high blood sugar levels that result in damage to the nerves. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), between 6...

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10

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerence occurs when a person's small intestine can't break down lactose, an enzyme found in dairy foods. The condition can cause many gastrointestinal symptoms.

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11

Painful Menstrual Periods

Menstruation is a monthly occurrence for women in which the body sheds the lining of the uterus (womb), which is then passed through a small opening in the cervix and out through the vaginal canal. Some pain, cramping...

Read more »

12

The Atypical Facts About Atypical Pneumonia

Atypical pneumonia refers to pneumonia (a long infection) that is not caused by the bacteria that cause the "typical pneumonia." Typical pneumonia tends to be more serious than atypical pneumonia. This type of pneumoni...

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13

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in which the lining of the large intestine (colon or bowel) and the rectum become inflamed. This inflammation produces tiny sores or ulcers on the lining of th...

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14

Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula (bulging sacs that usually appear in the lining of the large intestine) get infected or inflamed. Although diverticula are most common in the large intestine (colon), they ca...

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15

Celiac Disease (Gluten Intolerance)

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder. It is caused by an immune reaction to gluten. Celiac disease is also known as: sprue nontropical sprue gluten intolerance gluten-sensitive enteropathy Gluten is a protein found i...

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16

Malabsorption Syndrome

Malabsorption syndrome refers to a number of disorders in which the intestine's ability to absorb certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and iron, into the bloodstream is negatively affected.Proteins, carbohydrates...

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17

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn's disease is a chronic bowel disease that causes severe inflammation of the digestive tract. It is associated with abdominal pain, diarrhea, and may affect your quality of life. Crohn's disease is characterized b...

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18

PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects a woman's emotions, physical health, and behavior during certain days of the month generally just before her menstrual period. PMS symptoms start five to 11 day...

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19

Salmonella Food Poisoning (Salmonella Enterocolitis)

Salmonella food poisoning is an infection in the small intestine. It is also called salmonella enterocolitis or salmonellosis. It is one of the most common types of food poisoning, and is caused by the bacteria grou...

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20

Colonic (Colorectal) Polyps

Colonic polyps, also known as colorectal polyps, are growths that appear on the surface of your large intestine, or colon. You can have more than one polyp, and they may be flat or raised, benign or cancerous. Accordin...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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