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What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a common problem that we all suffer from occasionally. Fortunately, it is usually a limited episode that resolves quickly. When it doesn't, there can be cause for concern. The word diarrhea means different things to different people. Some patients who regularly experience bowel movements every three days think they have diarrhea if they begin going everyday. Complaints of diarrhea should be compared to what is normal for each individual patient. Typically, diarrhea is thought to be loose, unformed or watery stools that come more often than normal. It is often accompanied by abdominal cramps, and less warning when it is time to go.

What causes diarrhea?
As was already mentioned, most of us will get diarrhea occasionally. Most of the time it is related to a viral illness, and will go away in a few days. Bacterial infections like food poisoning can also cause diarrhea which can be accompanied by rectal bleeding. This is a more serious situation, and you should call your doctor. Other more serious causes of diarrhea include inflammatory diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, or diverticulitis. More common causes include irritable bowel syndrome, which is usually accompanied by constipation alternating with the diarrhea. Another common cause is lactose intolerance, which makes a person unable to digest milk products.

What can I do?
During a minor episode of diarrhea, simply forcing fluids and rest is enough. Fluids should be limited to water, fruit juices, non-caffeinated beverages and salt containing liquids such as broth and sport drinks like Gatorade or All Sport. Avoid all caffeinated beverages. Those people with a history of irritable bowel syndrome should make sure they are getting enough fiber and water in their diet. They should also make sure they are using any medicines their doctor has given them according to the prescription. If the diarrhea persists, over the counter medicines like Immodium A-D should not be used without the advice of your doctor. If a serious condition exists, use of those medicines can actually make the problem worse.

Are there warning signs?
Things to watch for during an episode of diarrhea include:

  • bleeding with the stool
  • high fever
  • severe abdominal pain
  • dehydration

If a person cannot drink enough to keep up with the fluid lost through bowel movements, they need to be in the hospital. If any of these warning signs occur, please call your doctor right away.

Learn more about Diarrhea  from MedLine Plus