- What causes Acute Diarrhea
- Clues to the Diagnosis of Acute Diarrhea
- What are the treatments for diarrhea ?
- REHYDRATION THERAPY
- Anti-diarrheal Medications
- ANTIBIOTIC THERAPY
- ZINC SUPPLEMENTATION
- Can diarrhea be prevented ?
- Diarrhea in infants
- What is Traveler’s Diarrhea
- What is Chronic Diarrhea
What causes Acute Diarrhea
Diarrhea is loose, watery stools (bowel movements). You have diarrhea if you have loose stools three or more times in one day. Acute diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts a short time. It is a common problem. It usually lasts about one or two days, but it may last longer. Then it goes away on its own.
Most cases of acute, watery diarrhea are caused by viruses (viral gastroenteritis). The most common ones in children are rotavirus and in adults are norovirus (this is sometimes called “cruise ship diarrhea” due to well publicized epidemics) 1. When a specific organism is identified, the most common causes of acute diarrhea in the United States are Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, and Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (enterohemorrhagic E. coli) 2.
Bacteria are a common cause of traveler’s diarrhea.
Clinically, acute infectious diarrhea is classified into two pathophysiologic syndromes, commonly referred to as 3:
- Noninflammatory (mostly viral, milder disease) and
- Inflammatory (mostly invasive or with toxin-producing bacteria, more severe disease).
Diarrhea lasting more than a few days may be a sign of a more serious problem. Chronic diarrhea — diarrhea that lasts at least four weeks — can be a symptom of a chronic disease. Chronic diarrhea symptoms may be continual, or they may come and go.
Table 1. Noninflammatory vs. Inflammatory Diarrheal Syndromes
Usually viral, but can be bacterial or parasitic
Generally invasive or toxin-producing bacteria
More likely to promote intestinal secretion without significant disruption in the intestinal mucosa
More likely to disrupt mucosal integrity, which may lead to tissue invasion and destruction
History and examination findings
Nausea, vomiting; normothermia; abdominal cramping; larger stool volume; nonbloody, watery stool
Fever, abdominal pain, tenesmus, smaller stool volume, bloody stool
Absence of fecal leukocytes
Presence of fecal leukocytes
Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, Rotavirus, Norovirus, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Vibrio cholerae
Salmonella (non-Typhi species), Shigella, Campylobacter, Shiga toxin–producing E. coli, enteroinvasive E. coli, Clostridium difficile, Entamoeba histolytica, Yersinia
Generally milder disease
Generally more severe disease
Severe fluid loss can still occur, especially in malnourished patients
Clues to the Diagnosis of Acute Diarrhea
The onset, duration, severity, and frequency of diarrhea should be noted, with particular attention to stool character (e.g., watery, bloody, mucus-filled, purulent, bilious). The patient should be evaluated for signs of dehydration, including decreased urine output, thirst, dizziness, and change in mental status. Vomiting is more suggestive of viral illness or illness caused by ingestion of a preformed bacterial toxin. Symptoms more suggestive of invasive bacterial (inflammatory) diarrhea include fever, tenesmus, and grossly bloody stool 5.
A food and travel history is helpful to evaluate potential exposures. Children in day care, nursing home residents, food handlers, and recently hospitalized patients are at high risk of infectious diarrheal illness. Pregnant women have a 12-fold increased risk of listeriosis 6, which is primarily contracted by consuming cold meats, soft cheeses, and raw milk 7. Recent sick contacts and use of antibiotics and other medications should be noted in patients with acute diarrhea. Sexual practices that include receptive anal and oral-anal contact increase the possibility of direct rectal inoculation and fecal-oral transmission.
The history should also include gastroenterologic disease or surgery; endocrine disease; radiation to the pelvis; and factors that increase the risk of immunosuppression, including human immunodeficiency virus infection, long-term steroid use, chemotherapy, and immunoglobulin A deficiency. History findings associated with causes of diarrhea are summarized in Table 2 and clinical features by pathogen are summarized in Table 3.
Table 2. Potential Causes of Acute Diarrhea
Afebrile, abdominal pain with bloody diarrhea
Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli
Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, Shiga toxin–producing E. coli, Clostridium difficile, Entamoeba histolytica, Yersinia
Camping, consumption of untreated water
Consumption of food commonly associated with foodborne illness
Raw ground beef or seed sprouts
Shiga toxin–producing E. coli (e.g., E. coli O157:H7)
Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shiga toxin–producing E. coli, Listeria
Seafood, especially raw or undercooked shellfish
Vibrio cholerae, Vibrio parahaemolyticus
Undercooked beef, pork, or poultry
Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, Salmonella, Listeria (beef, pork, poultry), Shiga toxin–producing E. coli (beef and pork), B. cereus (beef and pork), Yersinia (beef and pork), Campylobacter (poultry)
Exposure to day care centers
Rotavirus, Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella
Fecal-oral sexual contact
Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, protozoal disease
C. difficile, treatment adverse effect
Human immunodeficiency virus infection, immunosuppression
Cryptosporidium, Microsporida, Isospora, Cytomegalovirus, Mycobacterium aviumintracellulare complex, Listeria
Medical conditions associated with diarrhea
Endocrine: Hyperthyroidism, adrenocortical insufficiency, carcinoid tumors, medullary thyroid cancer
Gastrointestinal: Ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, lactose intolerance, ischemic colitis, colorectal cancer, short bowel syndrome, malabsorption, gastrinoma, VIPoma, bowel obstruction, constipation with overflow
Other: Appendicitis, diverticulitis, human immunodeficiency virus infection, systemic infections, amyloidosis, adnexitis
Medications or other therapies associated with diarrhea
Antibiotics (especially broad-spectrum), laxatives, antacids (magnesium- or calcium-based), chemotherapy, colchicine, pelvic radiation therapy
Less common: Proton pump inhibitors, mannitol, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, cholesterol-lowering medications, lithium
Persistent diarrhea with weight loss
Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora
Recent antibiotic use
Receptive anal intercourse, with or without rectal pain or proctitis
Herpes simplex virus infection, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis
Rectal pain or proctitis
Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. histolytica, C. difficile, Giardia
Several persons with common food exposure have acute onset of symptoms
Food poisoning with preformed toxins
Onset of symptoms within 6 hours: Staphylococcus, B. cereus (typically causes vomiting)
Onset of symptoms within 8 to 16 hours: C. perfringens type A (typically causes diarrhea)
Travel to a developing country
Enterotoxigenic E. coli is most common
Many other pathogens (e.g., Shigella, Salmonella, E. histolytica, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, enteric viruses) are possible because of poorly cleaned or cooked food, or fecal contamination of food or water
Table 3. Clinical Features of Acute Diarrhea Caused by Select Pathogens
|Pathogen||Fever||Abdominal pain||Nausea, vomiting, or both||Fecal evidence of inflammation||Bloody stool||Heme-positive stools|
Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli
None to mild
Who gets diarrhea ?
People of all ages can get diarrhea. On average, adults In the United States have acute diarrhea once a year. Young children have it an average of twice a year.
People who visit developing countries are at risk for traveler’s diarrhea. It is caused by consuming contaminated food or water.
What causes diarrhea ?
The most common causes of diarrhea include:
- Bacteria from contaminated food or water
- Viruses such as the flu, norovirus, or rotavirus . Rotavirus is the most common cause of acute diarrhea in children.
- Parasites, which are tiny organisms found in contaminated food or water
- Medicines such as antibiotics, cancer drugs, and antacids that contain magnesium
- Food intolerances and sensitivities, which are problems digesting certain ingredients or foods. An example is lactose intolerance.
- Diseases that affect the stomach, small intestine, or colon, such as Crohn’s disease
- Problems with how the colon functions, such as irritable bowel syndrome
Some people also get diarrhea after stomach surgery, because sometimes the surgeries can cause food to move through your digestive system more quickly.
Sometimes no cause can be found. If your diarrhea goes away within a few days, finding the cause is usually not necessary.
What other symptoms might you have with diarrhea ?
Other possible symptoms of diarrhea include:
- Cramps or pain in the abdomen
- An urgent need to use the bathroom (tenesmus)
- Loss of bowel control
If a virus or bacteria is the cause of your diarrhea, you may also have a fever, chills, and bloody stools.
Diarrhea can cause dehydration, which means that your body does not have enough fluid to work properly. Dehydration can be serious, especially for children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
When should you see a doctor for diarrhea ?
Although it is usually not harmful, diarrhea can become dangerous or signal a more serious problem. Contact your health care provider if you have:
- Signs of dehydration
- Diarrhea for more than 2 days, if you are an adult. For children, contact the provider if it lasts more than 24 hours.
- Severe pain in your abdomen or rectum (for adults)
- A fever of 102 degrees or higher
- Stools containing blood or pus
- Stools that are black and tarry
If children have diarrhea, parents or caregivers should not hesitate to call a health care provider. Diarrhea can be especially dangerous in newborns and infants.
How is the cause of diarrhea diagnosed ?
Because most watery diarrhea is self-limited, testing is usually not indicated 8. In general, specific diagnostic investigation can be reserved for patients with severe dehydration, more severe illness, persistent fever, bloody stool, or immunosuppression, and for cases of suspected nosocomial infection or outbreak.
To find the cause of diarrhea, your health care provider may:
- Do a physical exam
- Ask about any medicines you are taking
- Test your stool or blood to look for bacteria, parasites, or other signs of disease or infection
- Ask you to stop eating certain foods to see whether your diarrhea goes away
If you have chronic diarrhea, your health care provider may perform other tests to look for signs of disease (see Chronic Diarrhea below).
What are the treatments for diarrhea ?
Diarrhea is treated by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. Depending on the cause of the problem, you may need medicines to stop the diarrhea or treat an infection.
Adults with diarrhea should drink water, fruit juices, sports drinks, sodas without caffeine, and salty broths. As your symptoms improve, you can eat soft, bland food.
Children with diarrhea should be given oral rehydration solutions to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
The first step to treating acute diarrhea is rehydration, preferably oral rehydration 9. The accumulated fluid deficit (calculated roughly as the difference between the patient’s normal weight and his or her weight at presentation with diarrheal illness) must first be addressed. Next, the focus should turn to the replacement of ongoing losses and the continuation of maintenance fluids. An oral rehydration solution (ORS) must contain a mixture of salt and glucose in combination with water to best use the intestine’s sodium-glucose coupled cellular transport mechanism.
In 2002, the World Health Organization endorsed an oral rehydration solution (ORS) with reduced osmolarity (250 mOsm per L or less compared with the prior standard of 311 mOsm per L). The reduced osmolarity ORS decreases stool outputs, episodes of emesis, and the need for intravenous rehydration 10, without increasing hyponatremia, compared with the standard ORS 11.
- A reduced osmolarity oral rehydration solution (ORS) can be roughly duplicated by mixing 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 6 teaspoons of sugar, and 1 liter of water. If oral rehydration is not feasible, intravenous rehydration may be necessary.
Early refeeding decreases intestinal permeability caused by infections, reduces illness duration, and improves nutritional outcomes 12, 13. This is particularly important in developing countries where underlying preexisting malnutrition is often a factor. Although the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) and the avoidance of dairy are commonly recommended, supporting data for these interventions are limited. Instructing patients to refrain from eating solid food for 24 hours also does not appear useful 14.
Things you Should Avoid Eating or Drinking
- You should avoid certain kinds of foods when you have diarrhea, including fried foods and greasy foods.
- Avoid fruits and vegetables that can cause gas, such as broccoli, peppers, beans, peas, berries, prunes, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables, and corn.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.
- Limit or cut out milk and other dairy products if they are making your diarrhea worse or causing gas and bloating.
The antimotility agent loperamide (Imodium) may reduce the duration of diarrhea by as much as one day and increase the likelihood of clinical cure at 24 and 48 hours when given with antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea 15. A loperamide/simethicone combination has demonstrated faster and more complete relief of acute nonspecific diarrhea and gas-related discomfort compared with either medication alone 16.
Loperamide may cause dangerous prolongation of illness in patients with some forms of bloody or inflammatory diarrhea and, therefore, should be restricted to patients with nonbloody stool 17. The antisecretory drug bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) is a safe alternative in patients with fever and inflammatory diarrhea. There is inadequate evidence to recommend the use of the absorbents kaolin/pectin, activated charcoal, or attapulgite (no longer available in the United States). The antisecretory drug racecadotril, widely used in Europe but unavailable in the United States, appears to be more tolerable and as effective as loperamide 18.
Because acute diarrhea is most often self-limited and caused by viruses, routine antibiotic use is not recommended for most adults with nonsevere, watery diarrhea. Additionally, the overuse of antibiotics can lead to resistance (e.g., Campylobacter), harmful eradication of normal flora, prolongation of illness (e.g., superinfection with C. difficile), prolongation of carrier state (e.g., delayed excretion of Salmonella), induction of Shiga toxins (e.g., from Shiga toxin–producing E. coli), and increased cost.
However, when used appropriately, antibiotics are effective for shigellosis, campylobacteriosis, C. difficile, traveler’s diarrhea, and protozoal infections. Antibiotic treatment of traveler’s diarrhea (usually a quinolone) is associated with decreased severity of illness and a two-or three-day reduction in duration of illness 19. If the patient’s clinical presentation suggests the possibility of Shiga toxin–producing E. coli (e.g., bloody diarrhea, history of eating seed sprouts or rare ground beef, proximity to an outbreak), antibiotic use should be avoided because it may increase the risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome 20. Conservative management without antibiotic treatment is less successful for diarrhea lasting more than 10 to 14 days, and testing and treatment for protozoal infections should be considered.1 Antibiotics may be considered in patients who are older than 65 years, immunocompromised, severely ill, or septic. Table 4 summarizes antibiotic therapy for acute diarrhea 21.
Table 4. Summary of Antibiotic Therapy for Acute Diarrhea
|Organism||Therapy effectiveness||Preferred medication|
|Campylobacter||Proven in dysentery and sepsis, possibly effective in enteritis||Azithromycin (Zithromax), 500 mg once per day for 3 to 5 days|
|Alternative medications: Erythromycin, 500 mg four times per day for 3 to 5 days|
|Comments: Consider prolonged treatment if the patient is immunocompromised|
|Clostridium difficile||Proven||Metronidazole (Flagyl), 500 mg three times per day for 10 days|
|Alternative medications: Vancomycin, 125 mg four times per day for 10 days|
|Comments: If an antimicrobial agent is causing the diarrhea, it should be discontinued if possible|
|Enteropathogenic/enteroinvasive Escherichia coli||Possible||Ciprofloxacin, 500 mg twice per day for 3 days|
|Alternative medications: TMP/SMX DS, 160/800 mg twice per day for 3 days|
|Enterotoxigenic E. coli||Proven||Ciprofloxacin, 500 mg twice per day for 3 days|
|Alternative medications: TMP/SMX DS, 160/800 mg twice per day for 3 days|
|Comments: Enterotoxigenic E. coli is the most common cause of traveler’s diarrhea|
|Salmonella, non-Typhi species||Doubtful in enteritis; proven in severe infection, sepsis, or dysentery||—|
|Alternative medications: Options for severe disease: Ciprofloxacin, 500 mg twice per day for 5 to 7 days |
TMP/SMX DS, 160/800 mg twice per day for 5 to 7 days
Azithromycin, 500 mg per day for 5 to 7 days
|Comments: In addition to patients with severe disease, it is appropriate to treat patients younger than 12 months or older than 50 years, and patients with a prosthesis, valvular heart disease, severe atherosclerosis, malignancy, or uremia |
And Patients who are immunocompromised should be treated for 14 days
|Shiga toxin–producing E. coli||Controversial||No treatment|
|Alternative medications: No treatment|
|Comments: The role of antibiotics is unclear; they are generally avoided because of their association with hemolytic uremic syndrome. Antimotility agents should be avoided.|
|Shigella||Proven in dysentery||Ciprofloxacin, 500 mg twice per day for 3 days, or 2-g single dose|
|Alternative medications: Azithromycin, 500 mg twice per day for 3 days |
TMP/SMX DS, 160/800 mg twice per day for 5 days
Ceftriaxone (Rocephin), 2- to 4-g single dose
|Comments: Use of TMP/SMX is limited because of resistance. Patients who are immunocompromised should be treated for 7 to 10 days|
|Vibrio cholerae||Proven||Doxycycline, 300-mg single dose|
|Alternative medications: Azithromycin, 1-g single dose |
Tetracycline, 500 mg four times per day for 3 days
TMP/SMX DS, 160/800 mg twice per day for 3 days
|Comments: Doxycycline and tetracycline are not recommended in children because of possible tooth discoloration|
|Yersinia||Not needed in mild disease or enteritis, proven in severe disease or bacteremia||—-|
|Options for severe disease: Doxycycline combined with an aminoglycoside |
TMP/SMX DS, 160/800 mg twice per day for 5 days
Ciprofloxacin, 500 mg twice per day for 7 to 10 days
|Cryptosporidium||Possible||Therapy may not be necessary in immunocompetent patients with mild disease or in patients with AIDS who have a CD4 cell count greater than 150 cells per mm3|
|Options for severe disease: Nitazoxanide (Alinia), 500 mg twice per day for 3 days (may offer longer treatment for refractory cases in patients with AIDS)|
|Comments: Highly active antiretroviral therapy, which achieves immune reconstitution, is adequate to eradicate intestinal disease in patients with AIDS|
|Cyclospora or Isospora||Proven||TMP/SMX DS, 160/800 mg twice per day for 7 to 10 days |
AIDS or immunosuppression: TMP/SMX DS, 160/800 mg twice to four times per day for 10 to 14 days, then three times weekly for maintenance
|Options for severe disease: —|
|Entamoeba histolytica||Proven||Metronidazole, 750 mg three times per day for 5 to 10 days, plus paromomycin, 25 to 35 mg per kg per day in 3 divided doses for 5 to 10 days|
|Alternative medications: Tinidazole (Tindamax), 2 g per day for 3 days, plus paromomycin, 25 to 35 mg per kg per day in 3 divided doses for 5 to 10 days|
|Comments: If the patient has severe disease or extraintestinal infection, including hepatic abscess, serology will be positive|
|Giardia||Proven||Metronidazole, 250 to 750 mg three times per day for 7 to 10 days|
|Alternative medications: Tinidazole, 2-g single dose|
|Comments: Relapses may occur|
|Microsporida||Proven||Albendazole (Albenza), 400 mg twice per day for 3 weeks|
|Alternative medications: —|
|Comments: Highly active antiretroviral therapy, which achieves immune reconstitution, is adequate to eradicate intestinal disease in patients with AIDS|
|DS = double strength; TMP/SMX = trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole.|
Probiotics are thought to work by stimulating the immune system and competing for binding sites on intestinal epithelial cells. Their use in children with acute diarrhea is associated with reduced severity and duration of illness (an average of about one less day of illness) 22. Although many species are generally categorized as probiotics, even closely related strains may have different clinical effects. Effects of strain-specific probiotics need to be verified in adult studies before a specific evidence-based recommendation can be made 8.
Research in children suggests that zinc supplementation (20 mg per day for 10 days in children older than two months) may play a crucial role in treating and preventing acute diarrhea, particularly in developing countries. Studies demonstrate a decrease in the risk of dehydration, and in the duration and severity of the diarrheal episode by an estimated 20% to 40% 23. Additional research is needed to evaluate potential benefits of zinc supplementation in the adult population.
Can diarrhea be prevented ?
Two types of diarrhea can be prevented – rotavirus diarrhea and traveler’s diarrhea. There are vaccines for rotavirus. They are given to babies in two or three doses.
You can help prevent traveler’s diarrhea by being careful about what you eat and drink when you are in developing countries:
- Use only bottled or purified water for drinking, making ice cubes, and brushing your teeth
- If you do use tap water, boil it or use iodine tablets
- Make sure that the cooked food you eat is fully cooked and served hot
- Avoid unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables
Diarrhea in infants
Normal baby stools are soft and loose. Newborns have frequent stools, sometimes with every feeding. For these reasons, you may have trouble knowing when your baby has diarrhea.
Your baby may have diarrhea if you see changes in the stool, such as more stools all of a sudden; possibly more than one stool per feeding or really watery stools.
Causes of Diarrhea in Infants 24
Diarrhea in babies usually does not last long. Most often, it is caused by a virus and goes away on its own. Your baby could also have diarrhea with:
- A change in your baby’s diet or a change in the mother’s diet if breastfeeding.
- Use of antibiotics by the baby, or use by the mother if breastfeeding.
- A bacterial infection. Your baby will need to take antibiotics to get better.
- A parasite infection. Your baby will need to take medicine to get better.
- Rare diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
Diarrhea Causes Dehydration
Infants and young children under age 3 can become dehydrated quickly and get really sick. Dehydration means that your baby does not have enough water or liquids. Watch your baby closely for signs of dehydration, which include:
- Dry eyes and little to no tears when crying
- Fewer wet diapers than usual
- Less active than usual, lethargic
- Dry mouth
- Dry skin that does not spring back to its usual shape after being pinched
- Sunken eyes
- Sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on top of the head)
What is the best way to treat infant diarrhea ?
Most children with mild diarrhea can continue to eat a normal diet including formula or milk. Breastfeeding can continue. If your baby seems bloated or gassy after drinking cow’s milk or formula, see your pediatrician to discuss a temporary change in diet. Special fluids for mild illness are not usually necessary.
Make sure your baby gets plenty of liquids so she does not get dehydrated.
Keep breastfeeding your baby if you are nursing. Breastfeeding helps prevent diarrhea, and your baby will recover quicker.
If you are using formula, make it full strength unless your health care provider gives you different advice.
If your baby still seems thirsty after or between feedings, talk to your provider about giving your baby Pedialyte or Infalyte. Your provider may recommend these extra liquids that contain electrolytes.
Try giving your baby 1 ounce (2 tablespoons or 30 milliliters) of Pedialyte or Infalyte, every 30 to 60 minutes.
- DO NOT water down Pedialyte or Infalyte.
- DO NOT give sports drinks to young infants.
- DO NOT try to prepare these special fluids yourself. Use only commercially available fluids—brand-name and generic brands are equally effective.
- DO NOT give your baby ant-diarrhea medicine unless your provider says it is OK.
Try giving your baby a Pedialyte popsicle.
If your baby throws up, give them only a little bit of liquid at a time. Start with as little as 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of liquid every 10 to 15 minutes. DO NOT give your baby solid foods when she is vomiting.
If your child is not vomiting, these fluids can be used in very generous amounts until the child starts making normal amounts of urine again.
Feeding Your Baby
If your baby was on solid foods before the diarrhea began, start with foods that are easy on the stomach, such as:
DO NOT give your baby food that makes diarrhea worse, such as:
- Apple juice
- Fried foods
- Full-strength fruit juice
Preventing Diaper Rash
Your baby might get diaper rash because of the diarrhea. To prevent diaper rash:
- Change your baby’s diaper frequently.
- Clean your baby’s bottom with water. Cut down on using baby wipes while your baby has diarrhea.
- Let your baby’s bottom air dry.
- Use a diaper cream.
Wash your hands well to keep you and other people in your household from getting sick. Diarrhea caused by germs can spread easily.
When to see the Doctor
See your healthcare provider if your baby is a newborn (under 3 months old) and has diarrhea.
Also see your doctor if your child has signs of being dehydrated, including:
- Dry and sticky mouth
- No tears when crying
- No wet diaper for 6 hours
Know the signs that your baby is not getting better, including:
- Fever and diarrhea that last for more than 2 to 3 days
- More than 8 stools in 8 hours
- Vomiting continues for more than 24 hours
- Diarrhea contains blood, mucus, or pus
- Your baby is much less active than normal (is not sitting up at all or looking around)
- Seems to have stomach pain
Do’s for Infant Diarrhea
- Watch for signs of dehydration which occur when a child loses too much fluid and becomes dried out. Symptoms of dehydration include a decrease in urination, no tears when baby cries, high fever, dry mouth, weight loss, extreme thirst, listlessness, and sunken eyes.
- Keep your pediatrician informed if there is any significant change in how your child is behaving.
- Report if your child has blood in his stool.
- Report if your child develops a high fever (more than 102°F or 39°C).
- Continue to feed your child if she is not vomiting. You may have to give your child smaller amounts of food than normal or give your child foods that do not further upset his or her stomach.
- Use diarrhea replacement fluids that are specifically made for diarrhea if your child is thirsty.
Don’ts for Infant Diarrhea
- Try to make special salt and fluid combinations at home unless your pediatrician instructs you and you have the proper instruments.
- Prevent the child from eating if she is hungry.
- Use boiled milk or other salty broth and soups.
- Use “anti-diarrhea” medicines unless prescribed by your pediatrician.
What is Traveler’s Diarrhea
Traveler’s diarrhea is caused by a variety of pathogens but most commonly bacteria found in food and water, often related to poor hygiene practices in local restaurants 25. Food and water contaminated with fecal matter are the main sources of infection. Unsafe foods and beverages include salads, unpeeled fruits, raw or poorly cooked meats and seafood, unpasteurized dairy products, and tap water. Eating in restaurants increases the probability of contracting traveler’s diarrhea 26 and food from street vendors is particularly risky 27. Cold sauces, salsas, and foods that are cooked and then reheated also are risky 28.
Traveler’s diarrhea is rarely dangerous in adults. It can be more serious in children.
The classic definition of traveler’s diarrhea is three or more unformed stools in 24 hours with at least one of the following symptoms:
- abdominal cramps,
- tenesmus (continual or recurrent inclination to evacuate the bowels),
- bloody stools.
Food poisoning is part of the differential diagnosis of traveler’s diarrhea. Gastroenteritis from preformed toxins (e.g., Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus) is characterized by a short incubation period (one to six hours), and symptoms typically resolve within 24 hours 29. Seafood ingestion syndromes such as diarrhetic shellfish poisoning, ciguatera poisoning, and scombroid poisoning also can cause diarrhea in travelers. These syndromes can be distinguished from traveler’s diarrhea by symptoms such as perioral numbness and reversal of temperature sensation (ciguatera poisoning) or flushing and warmth (scombroid poisoning) 30.
Milder forms can present with fewer than three stools (e.g., an abrupt bout of watery diarrhea with abdominal cramps). Most cases occur within the first two weeks of travel and last about four days without treatment 31. Although traveler’s diarrhea rarely is life threatening, it can result in significant morbidity; one in five travelers with diarrhea is bedridden for a day and more than one third have to alter their activities 32.
An estimated 30% to 70% of travelers experience travelers’ diarrhea, depending on where they go and what time of year. Countries are generally divided into 3 risk groups: high, intermediate, and low.
- Destinations with high risk: Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, and Central and South America.
- Destinations with intermediate risk: Eastern Europe, South Africa, and some Caribbean islands.
- Destinations with low risk: the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Northern and Western Europe.
Common Causes of Traveler’s Diarrhea
In contrast to the largely viral etiology of gastroenteritis in the United States, diarrhea acquired in developing countries is caused mainly by bacteria 33. Bacteria such as enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli, enteroaggregative E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Shigella are common causes of traveler’s diarrhea 34. Parasites and viruses are less common etiologies.
Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli is the pathogen most frequently isolated, but other types of E. coli such as enteroaggregative E. coli have been recognized as common causes of traveler’s diarrhea 35. Invasive pathogens such as Campylobacter, Shigella, and non-typhoid Salmonella are relatively common depending on the region, while Aeromonas and non-cholera Vibrio species are encountered less frequently.
- Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli
- Other E. coli types (e.g., enteroaggregative E. coli)
- Salmonella (non-typhoid)
- Vibrio (non-cholera)
- Giardia lambli
- Entamoeba histolytica
- Cyclospora cayetanensis
- Cryptosporidium parvum
Protozoal parasites such as Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica, and Cyclospora cayetanensis are uncommon causes of traveler’s diarrhea, but increase in importance when diarrhea lasts for more than two weeks 36. Parasites are diagnosed more frequently in returning travelers because of longer incubation periods (often one to two weeks) and because bacterial pathogens may have been treated with antibiotics. Rotavirus and noroviruses are infrequent causes of traveler’s diarrhea, although noroviruses have been responsible for outbreaks on cruise ships.
The prevalence of specific organisms varies with travel destination. Available data suggest that E. coli is the predominant cause of traveler’s diarrhea in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, while invasive pathogens are relatively uncommon. Enterotoxigenic E. coli and enteroaggregative E. coli may be responsible for up to 71 percent of cases of traveler’s diarrhea in Mexico 35. In contrast, Campylobacter is a leading cause of traveler’s diarrhea in Thailand 37 and also is common in Nepal 26. Regional variation also exists with parasitic causes of traveler’s diarrhea 35. For example, Cyclospora is endemic in Nepal, Peru, and Haiti.
Prevention of Traveler’s diarrhea
You can reduce your risk of travelers’ diarrhea by staying away from the bacteria that cause it. Adults may also take an antacid medicine (e.g., Pepto-Bismol* [Bismuth subsalicylate], the equivalent of two 262-mg tabs or 2 fluid oz (60 mL) 4 times a day for up to three weeks), which can decrease the incidence of travelers’ diarrhea up to 50%. However, Pepto-Bismol is not recommended for pregnant women or children aged 3 years or younger. Avoid if allergic to aspirin or on anticoagulants, probenecid (Benemid), or methotrexate (Rheumatrex). Furthermore, bismuth subsalicylate interferes with the absorption of doxycycline (Vibramycin), it should not be taken by travelers using doxycycline for malaria prophylaxis. Travelers should be warned about possible reversible side effects of bismuth subsalicylate, such as a black tongue, dark stools, and tinnitus.
Probiotics are a more natural approach to prophylaxis of traveler’s diarrhea. Probiotics colonize the gastrointestinal tract and theoretically prevent pathogenic organisms from infecting the gut. Studies 38, 39 of Lactobacillus GG (Culturelle) have suggested protection rates of up to 47 percent. More studies are needed to confirm the efficacy of probiotic prophylaxis.
Boiling is the best way to purify water. Iodination or chlorination is acceptable but does not kill Cryptosporidium or Cyclospora, and increased contact time is required to kill Giardia in cold or turbid water 40. Filters with iodine resins generally are effective in purifying water, although it is uncertain whether the contact time with the resin is sufficient to kill viruses. Bottled water generally is safe if the cap and seal are intact.
How to prevent traveler’s diarrhea:
Water and other drinks
- Do not use tap water to drink or brush your teeth.
- Do not use ice made from tap water.
- Use only boiled water (boiled for at least 5 minutes) for mixing baby formula.
- For infants, breastfeeding is the best and safest food source. However, the stress of traveling may reduce the amount of milk you make.
- Drink only pasteurized milk.
- Drink bottled drinks if the seal on the bottle hasn’t been broken.
- Sodas and hot drinks are often safe.
- Do not eat raw fruits and vegetables unless you peel them. Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them.
- Do not eat raw leafy vegetables (e.g. lettuce, spinach, cabbage) because they are hard to clean.
- Do not eat raw or rare meats.
- Avoid shellfish.
- Do not buy food from street vendors.
- Eat hot, well-cooked foods. Heat kills the bacteria. But do not eat hot foods that have been sitting around for a long time.
Keep your hands clean.
Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after using the bathroom and before eating. Good hand hygiene prevents the spread of germs.
- Watch children carefully so they do not put things in their mouth or touch dirty items and then put their hands in their mouth.
- If possible, keep infants from crawling on dirty floors.
- Check to see that utensils and dishes are clean.
Eat and drink safely.
Stick to safe food and water habits. Some tips include:
- Eat food that is cooked and served hot, fruits and vegetables you have washed in clean water or peeled yourself, and pasteurized dairy products.
- Don’t eat food served at room temperature, food from street vendors, or raw or undercooked (rare) meat or fish.
- Drink bottled water that is sealed, ice made with bottled or disinfected water, and bottled or canned carbonated drinks.
- Don’t drink tap or well water or drinks with ice made with tap or well water or unpasteurized milk.
Treatment of Traveler’s diarrhea
If you find yourself suffering from travelers’ diarrhea, here are some things you can do to manage it.
Mild diarrhea can be tolerated, is not distressing, and does not prevent you from participating in planned activities.
The goal of the traveler’s diarrhea diet is to make your symptoms better and prevent you from getting dehydrated.
Table 5. Antibiotics Used for the Treatment of Traveler’s Diarrhea
500 mg twice daily for one to three days
Other quinolones (e.g., ofloxacin [Floxin], norfloxacin [Noroxin], and levofloxacin [Levaquin]) are presumed to be effective as well.
200 mg three times daily for three days
Not effective in persons with dysentery
In adults: 500 mg daily for one to three days or 1,000 mg in a single dose
Antibiotic of choice in children and pregnant women, and for quinolone-resistant Campylobacter
In children: 10 mg per kg daily for three days
Fluoroquinolones are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in children, and rifaximin is approved only for children 12 years and older. Therefore, azithromycin is the drug of choice for most children with traveler’s diarrhea 42. Another option is nalidixic acid (Neggram) in a dosage of 55 mg per kg per day divided into four doses, not to exceed 1 g in 24 hours 42. Loperamide is approved for children older than two years, but should not be used in children with dysentery. Bismuth subsalicylate should be avoided for prophylaxis in children because of the possible risk of Reye’s syndrome.
Pregnant women may be at higher risk of traveler’s diarrhea than nonpregnant women because of lowered gastric acidity and increased gastrointestinal transit time 43. Quinolones (FDA pregnancy category C) generally are not advised during pregnancy, but azithromycin (FDA pregnancy category B) is safe. Oral rehydration should be emphasized. Although rifaximin is not absorbed, the safety of this medication in pregnant women has not been established. Loperamide (FDA pregnancy category B) may be used, but bismuth subsalicylate (FDA pregnancy category D) should be avoided. Being careful with food and water is particularly important during pregnancy because infections such as listeriosis can cause miscarriage, and hepatitis E can result in maternal mortality.
To treat mild diarrhea:
- Drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Drink 8 to 10 glasses of clear fluids every day. Water or an oral rehydration solution is best.
- Drink at least 1 cup (240 milliliters) of liquid every time you have a loose bowel movement.
- Eat small meals every few hours instead of three big meals.
- Eat some salty foods, such as pretzels, soup, and sports drinks.
- Eat foods that are high in potassium, such as bananas, potatoes without the skin, and fruit juices.
- Take over-the-counter medications such as loperamide (e.g., Imodium) to manage symptoms. These medicines can help decrease the number of times you need to go to the bathroom, making it easier to ride on an airplane or bus. Always consult a health-care provider before giving over-the-counter medications to infants or children. Pregnant women and children aged 3 years or younger should avoid medicines containing bismuth, such as Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate.
Moderate diarrhea is distressing and can interfere with your planned activities.
Dehydration means your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. It is a very big problem for children or people who are in a hot climate. Signs of severe dehydration include:
- Decreased urine (fewer wet diapers in infants)
- Dry mouth
- Sunken eyes
- Few tears when crying
Give your child fluids for the first 4 to 6 hours. At first, try 1 ounce (2 tablespoons or 30 milliliters) of fluid every 30 to 60 minutes.
- You can use an over-the-counter drink, such as Pedialyte or Infalyte. Do not add water to these drinks.
- You can also try Pedialyte frozen fruit-flavored pops.
- Fruit juice or broth with water added to it may also help. These drinks can give your child important minerals that are being lost in the diarrhea.
- If you are breastfeeding your infant, keep doing it. If you are using formula, use it at half-strength for 2 to 3 feedings after the diarrhea starts. Then you can begin regular formula feedings.
In developing countries, many health agencies stock packets of salts to mix with water. If these fluids are not available, you can make an emergency solution by mixing:
- 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) of salt
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar or rice powder
- 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 grams) potassium chloride (salt substitute)
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams) trisodium citrate (can be replaced with baking soda)
- 1 liter of clean water
Get medical help right away if you or your child has symptoms of severe dehydration, or if you have a fever or bloody stools.
To treat moderate diarrhea:
- Drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration. Oral rehydration salt is widely available in stores and pharmacies in most countries. Mix as directed in clean water.
- Take over-the-counter medications such as loperamide (Imodium) to manage symptoms. Pregnant women and children aged 3 years or younger should avoid medicines containing bismuth, such as Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate.
- Consider taking an antibiotic if your doctor has prescribed you one.
Severe diarrhea is debilitating and completely prevents you from participating in planned activities.
To treat severe diarrhea:
- Take antibiotics if prescribed by your doctor.
- You can also take over-the-counter medicines to manage symptoms.
- Stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids, such as oral rehydration solution.
- Seek health care if you are unable to tolerate fluids or if you develop signs of dehydration. It is especially important to look out for signs of dehydration in infants and young children.
Travelers’ diarrhea can make international travel unpleasant. Following the treatment advice can help resolve symptoms within just a few days, so you can get back to enjoying your trip.
Complications of Travelers’ diarrhea
Dehydration is the main complication of traveler’s diarrhea, especially in children and older adults. Because E. coli O157:H7 is a rare cause of traveler’s diarrhea, there is little risk of hemolyticuremic syndrome. Other complications include Guillain-Barré syndrome after Campylobacter enteritis, Reiter’s syndrome (especially in persons who are HLA-B27 positive), Clostridium difficile colitis after antibiotic use, and postinfectious irritable bowel. These conditions may appear after the traveler has returned home.
If diarrhea persists despite antibiotic treatment, medical attention should be sought. Parasitic causes should be suspected in travelers who return with prolonged diarrhea or who do not respond to antibiotics. For those traveling to remote areas for extended periods, it is reasonable to discuss empiric treatment of protozoal infections (e.g., metronidazole [Flagyl] 250 mg three times a day for five days or tinidazole [Fasigyn] in a single 2–g dose for Giardia) 44.
What is Chronic Diarrhea
Diarrhea that lasts for more than 2-4 weeks is considered persistent or chronic 45. In an otherwise healthy person, chronic diarrhea can be a nuisance at best or become a serious health issue. For someone who has a weakened immune system, chronic diarrhea may represent a life-threatening illness.
What causes chronic diarrhea ?
Chronic diarrhea has many different causes; these causes can be different for children and adults. Chronic diarrhea sometimes is classified on whether or not it is caused by an infection. The cause of chronic diarrhea sometimes remains unknown.
Chronic diarrhea may be divided into three basic categories:
- Fatty (malabsorption), and
- Inflammatory (with blood and pus).
However, not all chronic diarrhea is strictly watery, malabsorptive, or inflammatory, because some categories overlap. The differential diagnosis of chronic diarrhea is described in Table 2 below.
Watery diarrhea may be subdivided into 46:
- Osmotic (water retention due to poorly absorbed substances),
- Secretory (reduced water absorption), and
- Functional (hypermotility) types.
Osmotic laxatives, such as sorbitol, induce osmotic diarrhea. Secretory diarrhea can be distinguished from osmotic and functional diarrhea by virtue of higher stool volumes (greater than 1 L per day) that continue despite fasting and occur at night. Stimulant laxatives fall into this secretory category because they increase motility 47. Persons with functional disorders have smaller stool volumes (less than 350 mL per day) and no diarrhea at night 47.
Table 6. Differential Diagnosis of Chronic Diarrhea
Secretory (often nocturnal; unrelated to food intake; fecal osmotic gap < 50 mOsm per kg*)
Bacterial enterotoxins (e.g., cholera)
Bile acid malabsorption
Brainerd diarrhea (epidemic secretory diarrhea)
Crohn disease (early ileocolitis)
Endocrine disorders (e.g., hyperthyroidism [increases motility])
Microscopic colitis (lymphocytic and collagenous subtypes)
Neuroendocrine tumors (e.g., gastrinoma, vipoma, carcinoid tumors, mastocytosis)
Nonosmotic laxatives (e.g., senna, docusate sodium [Colace])
Postsurgical (e.g., cholecystectomy, gastrectomy, vagotomy, intestinal resection)
Osmotic (fecal osmotic gap > 125 mOsm per kg*)
Carbohydrate malabsorption syndromes (e.g., lactose, fructose)
Osmotic laxatives and antacids (e.g., magnesium, phosphate, sulfate)
Sugar alcohols (e.g., mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol)
Functional (distinguished from secretory types by hypermotility, smaller volumes, and improvement at night and with fasting)
Irritable bowel syndrome
Fatty (bloating and steatorrhea in many, but not all cases)
Malabsorption syndrome (damage to or loss of absorptive ability)
Carbohydrate malabsorption (e.g., lactose intolerance)
Celiac sprue (gluten enteropathy)–various clinical presentations
Lymphatic damage (e.g., congestive heart failure, some lymphomas)
Medications (e.g., orlistat [Xenical; inhibits fat absorption], acarbose [Precose; inhibits carbohydrate absorption])
Noninvasive small bowel parasite (e.g., Giardia)
Short bowel syndrome
Small bowel bacterial overgrowth (> 105 bacteria per mL)
Whipple disease (Tropheryma whippelii infection)
Maldigestion (loss of digestive function)
Inadequate luminal bile acid
Loss of regulated gastric emptying
Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency
Inflammatory or exudative (elevated white blood cell count, occult or frank blood or pus)
Inflammatory bowel disease Crohn disease (ileal or early Crohn disease may be secretory)
Invasive infectious diseases
Clostridium difficile (pseudomembranous) colitis–antibiotic history
Invasive bacterial infections (e.g., tuberculosis, yersiniosis)
Invasive parasitic infections (e.g., Entamoeba)–travel history
Ulcerating viral infections (e.g., cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus)
*—Fecal osmotic gap = 290 – 2 × (stool sodium + stool potassium). It helps differentiate secretory from osmotic diarrhea. Normal fecal osmolality is 290 mOsm per kg (290 mmol per kg). Although measurement of fecal electrolytes is no longer routine, knowing the fecal osmotic gap helps confirm whether watery stools represent chronic osmotic diarrhea (fecal osmotic gap greater than 125 mOsm per kg [125 mmol per kg]) or chronic secretory diarrhea (fecal osmotic gap less than 50 mOsm per kg [50 mmol per kg]).
Table 7. Common Causes of Chronic Diarrhea
Chronic malabsorptive diarrhea, fatigue, iron deficiency anemia, weight loss, dermatitis herpetiformis, family history
Clostridium difficile infection
Often florid inflammatory diarrhea with weight loss
Recent history of antibiotic use, evidence of colitis, fever
May not resolve with discontinuation of antibiotics
Osmotic (e.g., magnesium, phosphates, sulfates, sorbitol), hypermotility (stimulant laxatives), or malabsorption (e.g., acarbose [Precose], orlistat [Xenical])
Secretory diarrhea or increased motility (hyperthyroidism)
Excess gas, steatorrhea (malabsorption)
Infectious enteritis or colitis (diarrhea not associated with C. difficile): bacterial gastroenteritis, viral gastroenteritis, amebic dysentery
Inflammatory diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain
History of travel, camping, infectious contacts, or day care attendance
Inflammatory bowel disease: Crohn disease, ulcerative colitis
Bloody inflammatory diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, family history, eye findings (e.g., episcleritis), perianal fistulae, fever, tenesmus, rectal bleeding, weight loss
Irritable bowel syndrome
Stool mucus, crampy abdominal pain, altered bowel habits, watery functional diarrhea after meals, exacerbated by emotional stress or eating
More common in women
History of vascular disease; pain associated with eating
Watery, secretory diarrhea affecting older persons
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug association possible
No response to fasting; nocturnal symptoms
List of Medications Associated with Diarrhea 49
- Citrates, phosphates, sulfates
- Magnesium-containing antacids and laxatives
- Sugar alcohols (e.g., mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol)
- Antiarrhythmics (e.g., quinine)
- Antibiotics (e.g., amoxicillin/clavulanate [Augmentin])
- Cardiac glycosides (e.g., digitalis)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (may contribute to microscopic colitis)
- Prostaglandins (e.g., misoprostol [Cytotec])
- Macrolides (e.g., erythromycin)
- Metoclopramide (Reglan)
- Stimulant laxatives (e.g., bisacodyl [Dulcolax], senna)
- Acarbose (Precose; carbohydrate malabsorption)
- Orlistat (Xenical; fat malabsorption)
- Thyroid supplements
Pseudomembranous colitis (Clostridium difficile)
- Antibiotics (e.g., amoxicillin, cephalosporins, clindamycin, fluoroquinolones)
Chronic Diarrhea caused by an infection may result from:
- Parasites (e.g., Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia, microsporidia)
- Bacteria (e.g., Aeromonas, Campylobacter, Clostridium difficile, E. coli, Plesiomonas, Salmonella, Shigella)
- Viruses (e.g., norovirus, rotavirus) or
- Unknown causes thought to be infectious (e.g., Brainerd diarrhea)
Chronic Diarrhea not caused by an infection may result from various causes such as:
- Disorders of the pancreas (e.g. chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic enzyme deficiencies, cystic fibrosis)
- Intestinal disorders (e.g. colitis, Crohn’s Disease, irritable bowel syndrome)
- Medications (e.g. antibiotics, laxatives)
- Intolerance to certain foods and food additives (e.g. soy protein, cow’s milk, sorbitol, fructose, olestra)
- Disorders of the thyroid (e.g. hyperthyroidism)
- Previous surgery or radiation of the abdomen or gastrointestinal tract
- Reduced blood flow to the intestine
- Altered immune function (e.g. immunoglobulin deficiencies, AIDS, autoimmune disease)
- Hereditary disorders (e.g. cystic fibrosis, enzyme deficiencies).
How are infections that can cause chronic diarrhea spread ?
Infections that can cause chronic diarrhea usually are spread by ingesting food or water or touching objects contaminated with stool. In general, chronic diarrhea not caused by an infection is not spread to other people.
How can infections that cause chronic diarrhea be prevented ?
Infections that cause chronic diarrhea usually can be prevented by:
- Always drinking clean safe water that has been properly treated,
- Always using proper food handling and preparation techniques,
- Always maintaining good hand hygiene, including always washing hands properly with soap and water before handling food and after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
How is the cause of chronic diarrhea diagnosed ?
Diagnosis of chronic diarrhea can be difficult and requires that your health care provider take a careful health history and perform a physical exam. The types of tests that your health care provider orders will be based on your symptoms and history. Tests may include blood or stool tests. Stool cultures may be used to test for bacteria, parasites or viruses; generally three or more stool samples are collected and examined. Special tests may be required to diagnose some parasites. If these initial tests do not reveal the cause of the diarrhea, additional tests may be done, including radiographs (x-rays) and endoscopy. Endoscopy is a procedure in which a tube is inserted into the mouth or rectum so that the doctor, usually a gastroenterologist, can look at the intestine from the inside.
Who is at risk for serious complications from chronic diarrhea ?
The risk of serious complications from chronic diarrhea depends on the cause of the diarrhea and the age and general health of the patient. Chronic diarrhea from some causes can result in serious nutritional disorders and malnutrition. Severely immunocompromised persons, including those with HIV/AIDS and those receiving chemotherapy for cancer or organ transplantation can be at risk for serious chronic diarrhea. Determining the correct cause of chronic diarrhea is necessary in order to select proper treatment and reduce the risk of serious complications.
How is chronic diarrhea treated ?
The treatment of chronic diarrhea is determined by its cause. Follow the advice of your health care provider.
- Diarrhea caused by an infection sometimes can be treated with antibiotics or other drugs. However, the correct diagnosis must be made so that the proper medication can be prescribed.
- Diarrhea not caused by an infection can be more difficult to diagnose and therefore treat. Long term medical treatment and nutritional support may be necessary. Surgery may be required to treat some causes of chronic diarrhea.
For diarrhea whose cause has not been determined, the following guidelines may help relieve symptoms. Follow the advice of your health care provider.
- Remain well hydrated and avoid dehydration. Serious health problems can occur if the body does not maintain proper fluid levels. Diarrhea may become worse and hospitalization may be required if dehydration occurs.
- Maintain a well-balanced diet. Doing so may help speed recovery.
- Avoid beverages that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee, and many soft drinks.
- Avoid alcohol; it can lead to dehydration.
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