Acute Diarrhea

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What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea refers to loose, watery stools and a feeling that you urgently need to use the restroom. This can last for a few days, or become a regular problem if you suffer from certain chronic conditions. Everyone has diarrhea occasionally, but it can be a sign of a number of health problems as well, especially when it’s severe, long-lasting, or both.

If you have diarrhea, you’ll likely experience:

  • Bloating in your stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Thin, loose or watery stools
  • An urgent feeling you need to move your bowels

Nausea or vomiting can also sometimes accompany diarrhea, and in some serious cases you may also notice blood or mucus in your stool or run a fever. Chronic or severe diarrhea can also lead to unintended weight loss.

What causes diarrhea?

Diarrhea can be a symptom of a large number of different health problems, especially those related to the gastrointestinal system. Some of the most common causes of diarrhea include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Food allergies, lactose intolerance, or celiac disease
  • Food poisoning
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (UC)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Bacterial infection
  • Viral infection, such as norovirus
  • A side effect of certain medications
  • Overactive thyroid glands
  • Certain types of cancer, especially in the digestive system

Diarrhea can also follow a period of constipation, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome. Additionally, sometimes other factors like eating certain foods or traveling to a new place with new bacteria can cause diarrhea, especially in people with gastrointestinal conditions like IBS.

When should I see a doctor about diarrhea?

There are a number of ways to know if your diarrhea is just a passing problem or something more serious. Schedule a visit to see a physician if you:

  • Have diarrhea for more than two days
  • Have diarrhea for more than two days
  • Have black or bloody stools
  • Have a fever of 102 degrees or higher
  • Experience pain near your rectum or anus
  • Have recently returned from a foreign country
  • Diarrhea isn’t usually dangerous, but dehydration can be very serious, so if notice signs of dehydration it’s much more urgent that you seek medical attention.