In some cases, a person may have diarrhea several times each day (not every day). If you have diarrhea often without the urge to go to the bathroom, it could be a sign of a serious condition.
Check with your doctor if you think you have an underlying medical condition.
Symptoms of diarrhea can vary from person to person. Some people may only have mild symptoms, while others may have a more severe case.
If you have diarrhea at least once a week, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.
Symptoms of severe diarrhea include:
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling cold and sweaty
- Feeling faint
It’s possible that diarrhea can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as:
- An ulcer
- Food poisoning
- Kidney disease
- A blockage in the colon
- A blockage in the small intestine
In these cases, the person may develop bloody or black stools.
People with chronic diarrhea may also develop:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- An enlarged liver and spleen
- A gallbladder that’s too large or weak, which can lead to gallstones
Diarrhea is also a common side effect of some prescription medications, including:
- Antihistamines and decongestants
- Anti-hypertensive medications
Diarrhea in babies
For babies, diarrhea can be a sign of:
- Bacterial infection. Sometimes the diarrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, such as a food poisoning or the result of a medication.
- Diarrhea in the first few months of life. Diarrhea in babies is often caused by a viral infection.
- Diarrhea in babies who are receiving immunoglobulin. Some immunoglobulin medications can cause diarrhea in infants.
- Diarrhea in babies who are older than 6 months.
Diarrhea in pregnant women
Pregnant women may experience diarrhea for several reasons. If you have diarrhea during your pregnancy, make an appointment with your doctor.
You may be told to take a probiotic or a stool softener to help prevent diarrhea. If you have diarrhea caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
Diarrhea during pregnancy is common. However, it’s important that you work with your doctor to manage diarrhea during pregnancy. If you’re experiencing frequent or severe diarrhea, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other medications.
Diarrhea in older adults
Diarrhea in older adults is usually caused by a virus or another condition that can’t be cured.
However, diarrhea is a common sign of a more serious underlying condition. This is particularly true of people who have chronic diarrhea or other gastrointestinal conditions, such as:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Celiac disease.
- Peptic ulcer disease.
Diarrhea in older adults is often caused by a virus or other condition that can’t be cured. However, diarrhea is a common sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Diarrhea in children
Diarrhea in children is a common sign of a bacterial infection or a food poisoning.
If you have diarrhea at least once a week, it could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Check with your child’s doctor if you think you may have a serious underlying condition.
Types of diarrhea
There are several types of diarrhea.
Acute diarrhea has a sudden onset. This type of diarrhea usually lasts only a few days. It may be caused by a virus or other infection.
A person with chronic diarrhea may have a more severe case. Chronic diarrhea can last for months or even years. It’s usually caused by a bacterial infection or by eating a food that causes a food poisoning.
If you have diarrhea at least once a week, it may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Diarrhea caused by a bacterial infection can range from mild to severe.
Frequent or severe diarrhea that lasts more than a few days is usually caused by a bacterial infection.
Food poisoning is caused by consuming contaminated food.
Common symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Stomach cramps
Food poisoning can be treated with home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. However, it’s important that you seek medical attention if you have severe symptoms.
If you suspect that you may have food poisoning, you should seek medical care immediately.
Diagnosing diarrhea depends on the cause and the symptoms.
In some cases, diarrhea can be caused by a bacterial infection. Your doctor may order blood tests to check for an infection.
If your doctor suspects that your diarrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, they may also order:
- Stool culture, which tests the stool sample for bacterial growth
- Stool-smear test, which tests the stool sample for parasites and other intestinal parasites
- Stool antigen test, which checks for bacterial toxins
Testing can help your doctor identify the specific type of bacteria or infection causing your diarrhea.
If a bacterial infection is the cause of your diarrhea, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat it.
Diagnosing a food poisoning is more complicated. The symptoms of food poisoning can overlap with those of other illnesses. Without a stool culture or parasite test, it can be difficult to distinguish between food poisoning and other illnesses.
See your doctor if you suspect that you have a food poisoning.
Your doctor may also order a stool-smear test to check for parasites.
Your doctor may also do an endoscopy to look for the presence of parasites.
When to see a doctor?
If your diarrhea lasts more than two weeks, you should see your doctor.
You should also see your doctor if:
- You have bloody diarrhea.
- You have severe diarrhea that doesn’t improve after two weeks.
- Your diarrhea causes you to lose weight.
- You experience weight loss or weight gain without a clear cause.
How is diarrhea treated?
Your doctor will treat your diarrhea with the type of treatment that they think is best for your symptoms. Treatment depends on the cause of your diarrhea.
Treating your diarrhea depends on its severity. Some infections can be treated with antibiotics, while others can be treated with home remedies or OTC medications.
If you have a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
When treated, diarrhea usually goes away on its own. However, if left untreated, diarrhea can lead to dehydration.
Dehydration can be dangerous. It can cause serious complications, such as:
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
If you become dehydrated from diarrhea, you should drink fluids until your symptoms improve.
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