Diarrhea refers to loose, watery stools. People with diarrhea typically have more than 3 bowel movements a day. Acute diarrhea typically lasts 1-2 days, and often goes away on its own. Prolonged diarrhea, lasting more than several days, can be a sign of a more chronic disease
Acute diarrhea is often related to infection. This can be a bacterial infection, often acquired through contaminated food or water, viral infection, or parasites. Other common causes of diarrhea include food intolerances, reactions to medications, or functional disturbances such as irritable bowel syndrome. Various inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or celiac disease can cause diarrhea as well.
Diarrhea often resolves on its’ own. However, when it persists or is accompanied by various ‘alarm symptoms’, further work-up should be pursued. These symptoms include: severe abdominal pain, fever, blood in the stool, black stools, signs of dehydration such as light-headedness and dark colored urine, or significant weight loss.
Diagnostic tests used to help determine the cause of diarrhea may include: history and physical, blood tests, stool studies, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, and various imaging tests. Treatment often starts with replacing lost fluid for those with signs of dehydration. Further treatment depends on the cause of the diarrhea. Over the counter anti-diarrheal agents are often not recommended for people suffering from a bacterial or parasitic infection. Patients are advised to avoid foods that can make the diarrhea worse, such as milk and dairy products, caffeine, greasy foods, etc. Foods that can be helpful include bananas, rice, toast, and other bland foods.