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Diarrhea describes bowel movements (stool) that are loose and watery. Diarrhea is a common condition and is usually not serious. Many people will have diarrhea once or twice a year. It typically lasts two to three days and can be treated with over-the-counter medicines.
Some cases require medical attention because diarrhea can quickly deplete the body's supply of water and salts that tissues need to function. The very young, old, and sick may have difficulty replacing these lost fluids. Diarrhea that lasts for several weeks or contains blood may indicate a serious illness. In these cases, you should contact your healthcare provider.
The symptoms of mild diarrhea include:
In addition to the symptoms described above, symptoms of severe diarrhea include:
Severe diarrhea may be a sign of a more serious illness and should prompt you to call your doctor. Contact your healthcare provider if you have prolonged diarrhea or a fever that lasts more than 24 hours. Also, see your doctor right away if vomiting prevents you from drinking liquids to replace lost fluids.
The most common cause of diarrhea is a virus that infects the bowel. The infection usually lasts for two days and is sometimes called intestinal flu. Diarrhea also may be caused by:
Diarrhea also may follow constipation, especially for people who have irritable bowel syndrome.
If you have a mild case of diarrhea, you can treat it with an over-the-counter medicine. Common brand names include Pepto-Bismol®, Imodium A-D®, and Kaopectate®. These are available as liquids or tablets. Follow the instructions on the package.
Tips for managing mild diarrhea with medication:
Tips for managing diarrhea without medication:
If your rectal area becomes sore because of frequent bowel movements, or if you experience itching, burning, or pain during bowel movements, try sitting in a few inches of warm water in a bathtub. Afterward, pat the area dry (do not rub) with a clean, soft towel. Also, apply petroleum jelly or a hemorrhoid cream to the anus.
Ongoing diarrhea causes the body to lose large amounts of water and nutrients. If you have diarrhea more than three times a day and you are not drinking enough fluids, you could become dehydrated. Dehydration is the loss of water from body tissues, which disturbs the balance of essential substances in your body. Dehydration can cause serious complications if it is not treated.
Notify your healthcare provider if you have ongoing diarrhea and are experiencing any of the following signs of dehydration:
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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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