Diarrhea means loose, watery stools more than three times in one day. With diarrhea, you may also have cramps, bloating, nausea and an urgent need to have a bowel movement.
Causes of diarrhea include bacteria, viruses or parasites, certain medicines, food intolerances and diseases that affect the stomach, small intestine or colon. In many cases, no cause can be found.
Although usually not harmful, diarrhea can become dangerous or signal a more serious problem. Talk to your doctor if you have a strong pain in your abdomen or rectum, a fever, blood in your stools, severe diarrhea for more than three days or symptoms of dehydration. If your child has diarrhea, contact your doctor, as it can be dangerous in children.
To find the cause of diarrhea, your doctor may perform a physical exam, ask about your medications and ask you to refrain from eating certain foods to see if it will go away. A stool or blood sample may be taken to look for bacteria, parasites or other indicators of infection or disease. For chronic diarrhea, additional tests may be ordered.
You can treat diarrhea by replacing lost fluids, salts and minerals to prevent dehydration. Over-the-counter medicines such as Imodium, Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate may also help in the short term. However, stop taking them and consult your doctor if your diarrhea lasts more than two days, gets worse or becomes bloody. The latter is usually treated with antibiotics prescribed by the health care provider. Over-the-counter medicines may also be dangerous for babies and children. Talk with your doctor before giving them to your child.