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Understanding Diarrhea -- Diagnosis & Treatment

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How Do I Know If I Have Diarrhea?

Your doctor's most important tool for diagnosing the cause of your diarrhea is the information you provide. You will need to inform the doctor about recent travel and whether other people in your family are ill. 

Providing details about the stool may be embarrassing, but they are very important, such as frequent presence of blood or mucus; how watery it is; how long you've had diarrhea; whether you are also experiencing severe urgency, abdominal pain, or pain in your rectum; and whether it occurs more often after eating certain foods. Your doctor may want to examine a sample of your stool and may send it to a lab for testing. 

Understanding Diarrhea

Find out more about diarrhea:

Basics

Symptoms

Diagnosis and Treatment

Prevention

If your doctor suspects food intolerance, the doctor may ask you to avoid a particular type of food for a while to see if this helps stop your diarrhea. 

If your doctor needs more information to make a diagnosis, you may need to undergo sigmoidoscopy, which is an exam of the rectum and lower part of the colon with a lighted tube-like instrument, or a colonoscopy, which is an exam of the entire colon with a similar instrument. If your symptoms suggest food intolerance or a hormonal disturbance, other tests may be ordered.

What Are the Treatments for Diarrhea?

The most important aspect of treating diarrhea is to avoid dehydration. Because plain water does not contain sugar, sodium, or potassium, which also is lost from diarrhea, it is important to consume plenty of fluids that contain these substances. Examples of such drinks include sports drinks, prepared rehydration solutions, chicken or beef broth, soft drinks, or bottled and flavored mineral water.

If you also are vomiting, try taking tiny amounts of liquid every 15 minutes. After you are able to hold down liquids, you can advance to a bland, soft diet. 

Experts now recommend returning to a normal diet within 24 hours, if possible.  

Antibiotics will sometimes resolve the symptoms of diarrhea. However, antibiotics won't help with viral diarrhea, which is the most common type of infectious diarrhea.

Drugs that slow diarrhea are controversial. Some doctors don't like their patients to take these medications because it slows the passage of the virus, bacteria, or parasite out of the body. If you wonder whether you should use any of the over-the-counter preparations available for diarrhea, ask your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on March 30, 2014

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