Diarrhea

Diarrhea is characterized by the unpleasant experience of having loose and watery stools three or more times a day. It has a wide range of possible causes, including food poisoning, infection, medications, food allergies or intolerances, inflammatory conditions, and malabsorption syndromes. Appropriate treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

Diarrhea can lead to complications such as dehydration or even malnutrition, especially if it's ongoing. While loose stools usually improve after a day or two, you should see your doctor if your symptoms are severe or if the diarrhea persists or is chronic. Likewise, any case of diarrhea in an infant or child should be evaluated by a pediatrician.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes diarrhea?

    Diarrhea can have many possible causes, such as stomach flu, eating too much fruit or fiber, or food poisoning, in which you've ingested contaminated food or water. Diarrhea is also a side effect of many medications. Chronic diarrhea may be due to a health condition, like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, or a food intolerance, like fructose or lactose malabsorption.

  • How can you treat diarrhea?

    A lot of times, diarrhea will go away on its own in a day or two, but to slow down acute cases of diarrhea, there are some home remedies that may help. Try following the bananas, rice, apple, toast (BRAT) diet, staying hydrated with coconut water, getting extra rest, or using over-the-counter therapies. If your diarrhea lasts more than three days, be sure to call your doctor.

  • What should you eat when you have diarrhea?

    Ideally, you'll want to eat foods that are simple, starchy, and low in fiber. Crackers and toast, white potatoes, white rice, bananas, and low-fat yogurt are all good options. Broths and soups can be helpful to keep you hydrated. Stay away from fried foods, artificial sweeteners, milk, and spicy foods.

  • How long does diarrhea last?

    Diarrhea generally lasts anywhere from two days to two weeks in acute instances, but in chronic situations, it may last for longer—several weeks or more. Your diarrhea may resolve on its own, but if it seems to be an ongoing issue, talk to your doctor about looking for an underlying condition. In children, see a doctor if symptoms don't resolve in 24 hours.

  • Can stress cause diarrhea?

    When you're stressed or anxious, your body activates a programmed fight-or-flight response, which may cause colon contractions to increase, triggering diarrhea. If this only happens rarely, it's likely just situational, but if you're experiencing stress-related diarrhea regularly, ask your doctor about irritable bowel syndrome, which can be worsened by stress.

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  1. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. The facts about inflammatory bowel diseases. Updated November 2014.

  2. Foley A, Burgell R, Barrett JS, Gibson PR. Management strategies for abdominal bloating and distension. Gastroenterol Hepatol. (N Y). 2014;10(9):561-571.

Additional Reading