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Diarrhea: What You Need To Know When You Gotta Go

When you have diarrhea, your bowel movements (stools) are loose and watery. It’s very common and usually not serious.

Many people get diarrhea once or twice each year. It typically lasts two to three days, and you can treat it with over-the-counter medicines. Some people have diarrhea more often as part of irritable bowel syndrome or other conditions.

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Hirschsprung's Disease

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What Are the Symptoms?

You may have:

  • Bloating in your belly
  • Cramps
  • Thin or loose stools
  • Watery stool
  • An urgent feeling that you need to have a bowel movement
  • Nausea and vomiting

More serious symptoms include:

  • Blood, mucus, or undigested food in the stool
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

If you have watery stools more than three times a day and you are not drinking enough fluids, you could become dehydrated. That can cause serious complications if it's not treated.

What Causes Diarrhea?

Usually, diarrhea is caused by a virus that infects the gut. Some people call it "intestinal flu" or "stomach flu."

Other causes include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Allergies to certain foods
  • Diabetes
  • Diseases of the intestines (such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Eating foods that upset the digestive system
  • Infection by bacteria (the cause of most types of food poisoning) or other organisms
  • Laxative abuse
  • Medications
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Running (Some people get “runner’s diarrhea” for reasons that aren’t clear)
  • Some cancers
  • Surgery on your digestive system
  • Trouble absorbing certain nutrients, also called “malabsorption”

Diarrhea may also follow constipation, especially for people who have irritable bowel syndrome.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor immediately if you have:

  • Blood in your diarrhea or black, tarry stools
  • A fever that is high (above 101 F) or that lasts more than 24 hours
  • Diarrhea lasting longer than 2 days
  • Nausea or vomiting that prevents you from drinking liquids to replace lost fluids
  • Severe pain in your abdomen or rectum
  • Diarrhea upon returning from travel to a foreign country

Also, call your doctor right away if you have diarrhea and any of these signs of dehydration:

  • Dark urine
  • Smaller than usual amounts of urine or fewer wet diapers than usual in a child
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Dry skin
  • Irritability
  • Confusion

 

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