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Diarrhea - Causes, Signs, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, and Complications

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Diarrhea is fairly frequent, affecting most people a few times per year. People will get loose, watery stools if they have diarrhea. Read the article for more.

Written by

Dr. P. Saranya

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Mohammad Rajja

Published At August 19, 2022
Reviewed AtNovember 1, 2023


Diarrhea is a frequent condition characterized by loose, watery stools three or more times a day. Diarrhea can appear on its own or be accompanied by other symptoms, including weight loss, nausea, or vomiting. Typically, diarrhea is a short-term issue that lasts a few days. However, if it persists for a long time, additional conditions may be present. According to how long it lasts and whether it is caused by an infectious or noninfectious disease, diarrhea is classified as either acute or chronic.

What Are the Causes of Diarrhea?

Many diseases and conditions can cause diarrhea, including:

  • Bacterial and Parasitic Infections: Diarrhea can be brought on by exposure to parasites or Escherichia coli through contaminated food or drink. Traveler's diarrhea is caused by bacteria and parasites when visiting underdeveloped countries. Another bacterium that can cause diarrhea after taking specific drugs or being hospitalized is Clostridium difficile.
  • Viral Infections: Enteric adenovirus, astrovirus, norovirus, cytomegalovirus, and viral hepatitis are a few of the viruses that can cause diarrhea. Children who have rotaviruses may have diarrhea. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also brought on by the corona disease virus.
  • Medications: Diarrhea is a common side effect of several drugs. Some antibiotics disrupt the normal bacterial ecology of the intestine and kill beneficial bacteria, which can cause diarrhea or other diseases. Diarrhea can be brought on by anti-cancer medications and antacids with magnesium.
  • Lactose Intolerance: A sugar called lactose is present in milk and other dairy products. Those who have trouble digesting lactose will experience diarrhea after consuming dairy products.
  • Fructose: Fruits and honey both contain the sugar fructose. Diarrhea can result from fructose intolerance.
  • Artificial Sweeteners: Chewing gum and other items without added sugar sometimes contain the artificial sugars sorbitol and mannitol. They may result in diarrhea.
  • Surgery: Gallbladder removal and intestine surgery can cause diarrhea.
  • Digestive Disorders: Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth can cause diarrhea.

What Are Diarrhea's Symptoms and Signs?

Signs and symptoms associated with loose, watery stools include:

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Bloating.

  • The urge to have a bowel movement.

  • Blood in stool.

  • Mucus in the stool.

How to Diagnose Diarrhea?

A physician will gather all the medical history and inquire for information about the medications prescribed or currently taken. Followed by physical examinations, physician may advice on some tests, including:

  • Blood test: To assess the severity of diarrhea, a complete blood count test, a kidney function test, and an electrolytes measurement are performed.
  • Stool Test: A stool test identifies infections caused by bacteria or parasites.
  • Breath test: This examination aids in determining lactose intolerance. When hydrogen is exhaled, lactose is not properly digested.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy or Colonoscopy: The doctor looks within the colon with the help of a small, light-equipped tube. While colonoscopy offers observation of the whole colon, flexible sigmoidoscopy only allows viewing of the lower colon. The tool is also used to collect tissue samples for microscopic analysis.
  • Endoscopy: The esophagus, stomach, and small intestine are examined using a long, thin tube with a camera attached. Additionally, it is utilized to collect tissue samples for laboratory examination.

How to Treat Diarrhea?

Most cases of mild diarrhea go away on their own in a couple of days. If lifestyle modifications and natural remedies fail to reduce the symptoms, prescription drugs or other treatments may be recommended.

  • Antibiotics or Anti-parasitics: If bacteria or parasites are the cause of diarrhea, antibiotics or anti-parasitic drugs are used. Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics.
  • Replacement of Fluids: Juice or water with electrolytes can be consumed to replenish lost fluids. Both potassium and salt levels can be maintained by consuming fruit drinks or soups. Apple juice, however, might aggravate diarrhea. Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are administered to children to either prevent dehydration or to replenish lost fluids.
  • Adjusting the Medications: A different antibiotic is administered if one antibiotic is producing diarrhea.
  • Treating Underlying Conditions: Medications are administered to treat underlying diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, if they are the cause of diarrhea.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics, collections of beneficial bacteria, are occasionally used to treat diarrhea by re-establishing a healthy biome. In some circumstances, adding probiotics can be beneficial, and some medical professionals believe it is worthwhile to give it a shot.

How to Prevent Diarrhea?

Washing hands properly can prevent the spread of infectious diarrhea. Proper washing should follow:

  • Washing Frequently: Wash the hands before and after handling food. After using the restroom, changing diapers, sneezing, coughing, or blowing one's nose, one should wash their hands.
  • Use Soap: Use soap and water to wash one's hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use Sanitizer When Washing Is Not Possible: Use a hand sanitizer with alcohol that has at least 60 % alcohol.
  • Vaccination: Rotavirus vaccination is advised for kids as it is the most prevalent cause of viral diarrhea.
  • Preventing Traveler's Diarrhea: People who visit places with poor sanitation are more likely to experience traveler's diarrhea.

To reduce the risk of traveler's diarrhea:

  • Eat hot, properly prepared food.

  • Avoid eating fruits and vegetables that have been peeled.

  • Avoid dairy and meat that has not been fully cooked.

  • Consume bottled water.

  • Avoid using ice cubes and tap water.

What Are Existing Lifestyle Modifications and Natural Cures for Diarrhea?

Some home remedies for diarrhea include:

  • Drinking plenty of liquids and juices can reduce the symptoms.

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

  • Avoid certain foods, such as dairy products, fatty foods, and high-fiber foods.

  • Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications such as Loperamide and Bismuth salicylate help reduce the frequency of watery stools.

  • Probiotics available in capsule or liquid form can be taken to restore the healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract.

What Are the Complications of Diarrhea?

If untreated, diarrhea causes dehydration, which can be life-threatening. Dehydration is dangerous for children, older adults, and those with weak immune systems.

Symptoms of dehydration in infants and children include:

  • Fever of more than 39 degrees Celsius.

  • Shedding no tears when crying.

  • Enduring at least three hours without having a wet diaper.

  • Dry tongue and mouth.

  • The appearance of the abdomen, skin, and cheeks being sunken.

  • Sleepiness or irritation.

Symptoms of dehydration in adults include:

  • Extreme thirst.

  • Dry mouth and skin.

  • Few or no urinations

  • Tiredness.

  • Dizziness.

  • Urine with a dark hue.


The most common cause of diarrhea is a transient infection, but it can sometimes have serious consequences, most notably dehydration. Chronic forms of the illness are also possible, although they are less typical. The two most typical types of illnesses are bacterial and viral. Diarrhea can also be brought on by drug side effects, underlying chronic diseases, and food intolerances. See a doctor if the symptoms persist for more than two days. If a child is exhibiting diarrheal symptoms, get medical help right away. Diarrhea and dehydration are common medical emergencies among children under the age of five since they are prone to both of these conditions.

Dr. Mohammad Rajja
Dr. Mohammad Rajja

General Practitioner


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