Diarrhea is a very common condition for people of all ages. A viral infection, such as the stomach flu, or a bacterial infection most frequently causes diarrhea. Less commonly, diarrhea is associated with an underlying medical condition. Symptoms include the passing of frequent stools that are loose, watery, and soft. Diarrhea may also cause bloating, pain, cramps, and gas.
Most cases of diarrhea are treated at home and resolve in a few days. Maintaining hydration is the goal of home care. Severe diarrhea can be associated with serious medical complications and require hospitalization
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat some types of bacterial infections. However, antibiotics do not work on viruses. Stomach viruses usually go away on their own in a few days. Generally, anti-diarrhea medications should not be given for the stomach flu as they only prolong the infection. You should not take over-the-counter diarrhea medications unless your doctor instructs you to.
Treatments vary for diarrhea caused by other medical conditions. Lifestyle and dietary changes may help some conditions. Ask your doctor for suggestions specific to your condition.
If you have a serious medical condition including HIV, AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or liver disease, contact your doctor as soon as your diarrhea starts. You may need prompt treatment. You may be at risk for developing complications from diarrhea.
If you travel to underdeveloped countries, drink only bottled water and do not use ice. Ice made with contaminated water can contain bacteria. Eat only well-cooked foods including meats, vegetables, and shellfish. Do not consume dairy products. Do not eat fruit that does not have a peel.
Am I at RiskInfants, children, the elderly, and people with suppressed immune systems have the highest risk for getting diarrhea caused by viruses and bacteria. Your risk is increased if you travel or live in areas with poor sanitation. You are at risk if you eat or drink contaminated food or water.
Call your doctor if your diarrhea lasts longer than a few days. You should call your doctor if you experience symptoms including faintness, dizziness, dry mouth, and blood or pus in your stools. More serious symptoms include a swollen or painful abdomen, fever higher than 101°, vomiting that lasts for more than 48 hours, and dehydration. Extreme thirst, dry mouth, little urine production, and a lack of tears are signs of dehydration. The eyes of children and infants may appear sunken. An infant’s fontanels, the “soft spots” on the head, may also appear sunken. You should have someone take you to a hospital emergency room if you are sleepy or unaware of your surroundings.
AdvancementsIn 2006, a vaccine was approved to prevent the rotavirus in infants. Vaccines are available for Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholerae, and rotavirus. Doctors administer the vaccines selectively, based on your foreign travel plans and medical history.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.