Diarrhea describes bowel movements (stools) that are loose and watery. It is very common and usually not serious. Many people will have diarrhea once or twice each year. It typically lasts two to three days and can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Some people have diarrhea often as part of irritable bowel syndrome or other chronic diseases of the large intestine.
Doctors classify diarrhea as "osmotic," "secretory," or "exudative."
Osmotic diarrhea means that something in the bowel is drawing water from the body into the bowel. A common example of this is "dietetic candy" or "chewing gum" diarrhea, in which a sugar substitute, such as sorbitol, is not absorbed by the body but draws water from the body into the bowel, resulting in diarrhea.
Secretory diarrhea occurs when the body is releasing water into the bowel when it's not supposed to. Many infections, drugs, and other conditions cause secretory diarrhea.
Contact your doctor if you have prolonged diarrhea or a fever that lasts more than 24 hours. Also see your doctor promptly if vomiting prevents you from drinking liquids to replace lost fluids.
How Is Diarrhea Treated?
If you have a mild case of diarrhea, you can just let it run its course, or you can treat it with an over-the-counter medicine. Common brand names include Pepto-Bismol, Imodium A-D, and Kaopectate, which are available as liquids or tablets. Follow the instructions on the package.
In addition, you should drink at least six 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day. Choose fruit juice without pulp, broth, or soda (without caffeine). Chicken broth (without the fat), tea with honey, and sports drinks are also good choices. Instead of drinking liquids with your meals, drink liquids between meals. Drink small amounts of fluids frequently.