Diarrhea means that you have a change in your bowel movements and pass
unusually loose stools. Stool is what is left after your digestive system
(stomach, small intestine, and colon) absorbs nutrients and fluids from what
you eat and drink. Stool passes out of the body through the rectum. If fluids
are not absorbed, or if your digestive system produces extra fluids, stools
will be loose and watery. Loose stools are larger than usual. People with
diarrhea often have frequent bowel movements and may pass more than a quart of
watery stool a day.
People who have diarrhea may also have
Also, people with diarrhea may feel sick to their stomach or be dehydrated.
Dehydration means that your body does not have enough fluid to work
properly. Every time you breathe out, sweat, urinate, or have a bowel
movement, you lose fluid. Diarrhea increases the amount of fluid lost in bowel
movements. Along with the fluid, you lose salts-chemicals that your body needs
to work properly. The loss of fluids and salts can be serious, especially for
babies and young children and for older people.
The signs of dehydration in adults are
In addition, the kidneys could stop working.
The signs of dehydration in babies and young children are
Also, when children have diarrhea, their skin seems to lose its elasticity.
It does not flatten back to normal when pinched and released.
Anyone can get diarrhea. This common problem can last a day or two or for
months or years, depending on the cause. Most people get better on their own,
but diarrhea can be serious for babies and older people if lost fluids are not
replaced. Many people throughout the world die from diarrhea because of the
large volume of water lost and the accompanying loss of salts.
Diarrhea can be caused by
Sometimes no cause for diarrhea can be found.
Diarrhea often goes away by itself, but it can be a sign of a more serious
problem. You should talk to your doctor if your diarrhea lasts for more than 3
days. You should also call your doctor if you have
Children younger than 12 become dehydrated much more easily than adults. If
your child does not improve after 24 hours or has any of the following
symptoms along with diarrhea, call the doctor. (This is especially important
if your child is 6 months old or younger.)
Your doctor may want to perform tests to find the cause of the diarrhea:
For a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, the doctor uses a thin, flexible,
lighted tube with a lens on the end.
In many cases of diarrhea, replacing lost fluid and salts is the only
Taking medicine to stop diarrhea can be helpful in some cases. Medicines
that are available without a doctor's prescription include loperamide
(Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol and Kaopectate). Stop taking
these medicines if symptoms get worse or if diarrhea lasts more than 2 days.
If a particular food or medicine is the cause, you should avoid it.
Also, while you are waiting for the diarrhea to end, you should avoid foods
that can make it worse:
As you feel better, begin eating soft, bland food, such as bananas, plain
rice, boiled potatoes, toast, crackers, cooked carrots, and baked chicken
without the skin or fat. Children can eat bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast
(sometimes called the BRAT diet).
People who are visiting other countries and eat food or drink water
contaminated by bacteria, viruses, or parasites can develop traveler's
You can prevent it by being careful:
You can safely drink bottled water, carbonated soft drinks, and hot
drinks like coffee or tea.
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document are used only because they are considered necessary in the context
of the information provided. If a product is not mentioned, the omission
does not mean or imply that the product is unsatisfactory.
NIH Publication No. 05–5176
The information provided here should not be used for diagnosis
or treatment. A licensed physician should be consulted for the diagnosis and treatment of Addison's Disease and
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