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What Is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is a common intestinal disorder causing frequent, loosely formed or liquid bowel movements. You have diarrhea if you have three or more loose bowel movements a day. Diarrhea typically stops after a day or two but can last longer.

Causes of diarrhea may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Bacteria or parasites in food or water
  • Cancer therapies
  • Food intolerances
  • Magnesium-containing antacids or supplements
  • Small intestine, colon or stomach conditions
  • Stomach surgery
  • Viruses


Diarrhea symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Bowel incontinence (loss of bowel control)
  • Fever, chills and bloody stools
  • Urgent need to use the bathroom

Diarrhea can cause dehydration. This is a serious condition – especially for infants, children, older adults or people with weakened immune systems. Contact your health provider if symptoms last more than one day (children) or two days (adults). Get prompt medical help if your baby has diarrhea.

Symptoms Requiring Medical Evaluation

  • Black, tarry or bloody stools
  • Chills
  • Fever over 101 degrees
  • Persistent dehydration including symptoms of dizziness
  • Severe abdominal or rectum pain
  • Diarrhea lasting four weeks or more

Treatment Options

Your doctor will do a physical exam and review your health history, dietary habits and medications. Testing may include a stool sample to check for blood, bacteria, infection or disease.

You may need to avoid certain foods and replace lost fluids and electrolytes – important minerals for bodily functions. Depending on the cause, you may need medication.

Children with diarrhea require oral solutions that replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Adults should drink water, fruit juice, sports drinks, decaffeinated soda or salty broth. When symptoms improve, you can slowly return to a normal diet. Start with soft, bland foods such as yogurt, applesauce, soda crackers or cooked cereal.


Careful handwashing and food handling helps prevent diarrhea caused by infection. Prevention includes:

  • Using bottled or purified water for drinking, ice cubes and brushing teeth when traveling to foreign countries
  • Boiling tap water or taking iodine when visiting foreign locations
  • Ensuring proper cooking and serving temperatures for hot or cold food
  • Avoiding unwashed, unpeeled fruits and vegetables
  • Dining in trusted, well-cleaned restaurants inspected by health officials
  • Vaccinations

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of diarrhea, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat diarrhea.