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Part of life is having occasional diarrhea—loose, watery stool with more frequent bowel movements than normal. You might also experience abdominal cramps and various other symptoms. There are a variety of causes, but fortunately there are also proven treatments to help you get rid of diarrhea before it gets serious.
Acute diarrhea lasts from 2 days to 2 weeks, and is usually caused by a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection.
Chronic diarrhea generally lasts more than 4 weeks and can be caused by conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or more serious disorders like ulcerative colitis, celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. See your primary care provider for help.
Diarrhea is usually not harmful, and should go away on its own after a few days.
But if it is persistent, or you have symptoms such as a fever, dehydration or severe abdominal pain, see your primary care provider.
People of all ages get acute diarrhea—in the U.S., adults get acute diarrhea once a year on average, while children get it twice a year.
According to the National Institute of Health, the most common causes of diarrhea include:
Bacteria from contaminated food or water. Bacteria is the most common cause of food poisoning, and commonly causes traveler’s diarrhea when visiting developing countries.
Viruses such as the flu, norovirus or rotavirus. The most common cause of acute diarrhea in children.
Parasites. Tiny organisms found in contaminated food or water.
Medicines. Medications such as antibiotics, cancer drugs and antacids that contain magnesium can cause diarrhea.
Food intolerances and sensitivities. Problems digesting certain ingredients or foods, e.g., artificial sweeteners, fructose and lactose.
Diseases that affect the stomach, small intestine, or colon such as Crohn’s disease.
Problems with how the colon functions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Some people also get diarrhea after stomach surgery, because sometimes the surgeries can cause food to move through your digestive system more quickly.
Sometimes no cause can be found. If your diarrhea goes away within a few days, finding the cause is usually not necessary.
For people of all ages, common signs and symptoms associated with diarrhea include:
Diarrhea is usually not harmful, but it can become serious or be a sign of a more serious problem.
See your primary care provider if you are an adult and you:
If your child or baby has diarrhea, see your provider if his/her diarrhea doesn’t improve within 24 hours and your child:
Your diarrhea should go away on its own after a couple of days without treatment. Depending on the cause, you may need medicines to stop the diarrhea or treat an infection.
First, try these remedies at home:
If these don’t work, see your primary care provider for a personalized treatment plan based on a proper diagnosis and your symptoms.
Your plan may include:
Even though diarrhea strikes every year on average, you can take steps to prevent two types of diarrhea: