Diarrhea occurs when stools are pushed through the intestines before the water in them can be absorbed into the body. This causes more frequent, looser stools, sometimes with abdominal cramping. There are many cause of diarrhea, the most common of which includes infections from viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Certain medications, such as antibiotics and laxatives, can also cause diarrhea.

Prevention

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before touching food to decrease the spread of organisms that may lead to diarrhea.
  • If you prepare food for yourself or others, learn safe food handling techniques, especially for high-risk foods such as raw chicken.
  • Learn techniques to manage emotional stress and anxiety, a common cause of loose stools (irritable bowel syndrome).
  • Avoid drinking untreated water, which may contain organisms that cause diarrhea. This is especially important when you visit foreign countries or go camping.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners, such as sorbital, or fat substitutes, such as olestra.
  • Ask your medical provider if any medications you are taking may be causing loose stools.

Treatment

Home care   Home Care

  • Drink small, frequent sips of water, apple juice, coconut water or oral rehydration solution.
  • Avoid eating until you feel better and the frequency of the stools has decreased. Then, begin with mild foods such as toast, dry crackers, rice, and applesauce.
  • Only if there are no other signs of illness, such as fever, chills, or bloody stools, you may carefully try anti-diarrheal drugs such as lmodium® or Pepto-Bismol® per package instructions.

Professional care   Professional Care

Seek medical attention if:

  • Your stools are bloody or black.
  • You have severe diarrhea (large stools every hour, or more than ten stools a day), especially if signs of dehydration or other complications are present.
  • You diarrhea is accompanied by a persistent fever or severe abdominal pain.
  • Your diarrhea lasts longer than one to two weeks.