Diarrhea is more than three loose, liquid stools in one day. It causes the body to lose fluids and electrolytes. Diarrhea can be:
Fluid loss can lead to dehydration. This can be dangerous for babies, young children, and older adults.
Causes may be:
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
Problems may be:
Call your doctor if you:
Call your doctor if your young child:
Call for medical help or go to the emergency room right away if you or your child has:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may insert a gloved finger into the rectum to examine it. This is called a digital rectal exam.
The doctor may ask these questions to find the cause of diarrhea:
Blood tests and stool tests may be done.
The rectum and colon may need to be examined. This can be done with:
A biopsy may also be taken.
Images may be taken of the colon. This can be done with:
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Any underlying cause will need to be treated.
The goal of treatment is to ease diarrhea and prevent dehydration. Choices are:
The risk of diarrhea may be lowered by:
Rotavirus is a common cause of diarrhea in children under 5 years of age. The rotavirus vaccine can prevent it.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Acute diarrhea in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/acute-diarrhea-in-adults. Accessed February 9, 2021.
Diarrhea. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/diarrhea.html. Accessed February 9, 2021.
Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea. Accessed February 9, 2021.
Rotavirus vaccines. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/vaccines/rotavirus-vaccine.html. Accessed February 9, 2021.
Shane AL, Mody RK, et al. 2017 Infectious Diseases Society of America Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Infectious Diarrhea. Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Nov 29;65(12):e45-e80.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD Last Updated: 2/9/2021