Diarrhea

What is Diarrhea?


Diarrhea is more frequent and more liquid bowel movements than normal. Diarrhea often is caused by an infection with bacteria, viruses or a parasite. Bacteria cause diarrhea either by invading the intestine or by producing a toxin that makes the intestine secrete more water. When the diarrhea is caused by food contaminated with bacteria or parasites, people often refer to this as food poisoning.

Symptoms of Diarrhea

People with diarrhea usually have loose, watery stools. Less commonly, people pass frequent, small amounts of loose stool with mucous and blood. Other symptoms can include:

• Abdominal pain and cramping

• Vomiting

• Fever

• Chills

• Bloody stools

• Lack of bowel control

Frequent vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration (abnormally low levels of body water) if too much fluid is lost from the body. Signs of dehydration include:

• Dry mouth

• Thirst

• Dry eyes

• Infrequent urination

Treatment of Diarrhea

• When symptoms start, try to rest more and switch to a diet of clear liquids.

• Drink water, juice, bouillon and weak tea to avoid becoming dehydrated. Replace lost fluids and electrolytes with sports drinks.

• Avoid coffee or soft drinks that contain caffeine, since caffeine increases the loss of water and salt.

• If you have nausea in addition to diarrhea, take very small sips of fluid frequently and suck on ice chips.

• As you begin to feel better, start eating solid foods gradually to prevent stomach cramps. Start with soft, starchy foods (cooked cereal, steamed rice, unbuttered toast, and applesauce) before returning to your normal diet.

• To ease stomach cramps, apply warmth (a hot water bottle, warm compress or electric heating pad set on low heat) to your abdomen. You also may consider over-the-counter medications such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) or loperamide (Imodium).