Day 3 of diarrhea

If you can’t seem to get out of the bathroom because of diarrhea, you might be wondering what caused the problem, and when it’s time to seek the help of your doctor.
“There are a variety of potential causes of diarrhea,” said Geisinger gastroenterologist Seth Kaufer, D.O. “But, luckily, it almost always passes on its own within several days.” But if it doesn’t or you begin to notice more severe symptoms, you might have more questions.
Here’s what you need to know about the potential causes of diarrhea, and when you should see a doctor for treatment.
What causes diarrhea
Most cases of diarrhea are caused by a virus that infects your gut, also known as the stomach flu. This can come from contaminated food or from germs passed by unwashed hands.
“Foods become contaminated when they come into contact with animal feces, whether that is from the harvesting or fertilizing process,” said Dr. Kaufer. “You can also get it from physical contact with a surface or animal that might be contaminated.”
Beyond infections, you can experience diarrhea as a side effect of chronic digestive conditions like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis. It can also be caused by alcohol abuse, allergies, medications or issues with your thyroid.
Symptoms, treatment and talking to your doctor
With common stomach flus or a viral infection, you will likely find yourself struggling to regulate your bowel movements and spend a lot of time in the bathroom for two or three days. Many people will also experience nausea and bloating, as well as the possibility of dehydration.
“Any time you’re dealing with diarrhea, it’s important to stay hydrated because your body is losing so much water,” said Dr. Kaufer. “Dehydration is often more dangerous than the minor infection your body is fighting.”
If you are dehydrated, you will notice your urine is dark or you’re not urinating often, your heart rate rises, you get a headache or feel confused.
Staying hydrated by sipping on water or eating ice chips and eating simple foods like rice should calm your stomach once you’re able to eat again. In all, the ordeal should only last two or three days. If you notice symptoms after three days, you should contact your doctor.
You should also contact your doctor if you begin to notice new or worsening symptoms. Sometimes diarrhea is the result of a bacterial infection, which is often more serious than a viral infection and will require antibiotics. Common types of bacterial infections include Escherichia coli (E. coli) and salmonella, and those more serious symptoms include bloody or black stool, weight loss, severe cramping or fever.
Your doctor may order a blood or stool test to identify the cause of your symptoms, and may recommend a colonoscopy in extreme cases.
“Antibiotics are most commonly prescribed to clear up an infection, but your doctor may recommend fluid replacement treatments or an adjustment to any medications that might be causing the problem,” said Dr. Kaufer.
Seth Kaufer, DO, is a gastroenterologist at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. To schedule an appointment, call 800-275-6401.


Diarrhoea will usually clear up without treatment after a few days, particularly if it’s caused by an infection.

In children, diarrhoea will usually pass within 5 to 7 days and will rarely last longer than 2 weeks.

In adults, diarrhoea usually improves within 2 to 4 days, although some infections can last a week or more.

While waiting for your diarrhoea to pass, you can ease your symptoms by following the advice outlined below.

Drink fluids

It’s important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, particularly if you’re also vomiting. Take small, frequent sips of water.

Ideally, adults should drink a lot of liquids that contain water, salt, and sugar. Examples are water mixed with juice and soup broth. If you’re drinking enough fluid, your urine will be light yellow or almost clear.

It’s also very important for babies and small children not to become dehydrated. Give your child frequent sips of water, even if they are vomiting. A small amount is better than none.

Fruit juice or fizzy drinks should be avoided as they can make diarrhoea worse in children.

If you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby and they have diarrhoea, you should continue to feed them as normal.

Contact your GP immediately if you or your child develop any symptoms of dehydration.

Oral rehydration solutions

Your GP or pharmacist may suggest using an oral rehydration solution (ORS) to prevent dehydration if you’re at risk – for example, if you’re frail or elderly. ORS can also be used to treat dehydration that has already occurred.

Rehydration solutions usually come in sachets available from your local pharmacist without a prescription. They are dissolved in water and replace salt, glucose, and other important minerals that are lost if you are dehydrated.


Your GP or pharmacist may recommend giving your child an ORS if they are dehydrated or at risk of becoming dehydrated.

The usual recommendation is for your child to drink an ORS each time they have an episode of diarrhoea. The amount they should drink will depend on their size and weight.

Your pharmacist can advise you about this. The manufacturer’s instructions should also give information about the recommended dose.

You may be able to give your baby an ORS if they become dehydrated, but check with your GP, pharmacist, or health visitor first.


Opinion is divided over when and what you should eat if you have diarrhoea. However, most experts agree you should eat solid food as soon as you feel able to. Eat small, light meals and avoid fatty or spicy foods.

Good examples are potatoes, rice, bananas, soup, and boiled vegetables. Salty foods help the most.

You don’t need to eat if you’ve lost your appetite, but you should continue to drink fluids and eat as soon as you feel able to.

If your child is dehydrated, do not give them any solid food until they have drunk enough fluids. Once they have stopped showing signs of dehydration, they can start eating their normal diet.

If your child is not dehydrated, offer them their normal diet. If they refuse to eat, continue to give them fluids and wait until their appetite returns.


Antidiarrhoeal medicines

Antidiarrhoeal medicines may help reduce your diarrhoea and slightly shorten how long it lasts. However, they’re not usually necessary.

Loperamide is the main antidiarrhoeal medicine used, as it has been shown to be effective and causes few side effects.

Loperamide slows down the muscle movements in your gut so more water is absorbed from your stools. This makes your stools firmer and they’re passed less frequently.

An alternative to loperamide is a different type of antidiarrhoeal medicine called racecadotril, which works by reducing the amount of water produced by the small intestine. Evidence suggests this medication may be as effective as loperamide for treating diarrhoea.

Some antidiarrhoeal medicines can be bought from a pharmacy without a prescription. Check the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine to find out whether it’s suitable for you and what dose you should take. Ask your pharmacist for advice if you’re unsure.

Do not take antidiarrhoeal medicines if there is blood or mucus in your stools or you have a high temperature (fever). Instead, you should contact your GP for advice.

Most antidiarrhoeal medicines should not be given to children. Racecadotril can be used in children over 3 months old if it’s combined with oral rehydration and the other measures mentioned above, although not all doctors recommend it.


Painkillers will not treat diarrhoea, but paracetamol or ibuprofen can help relieve a fever and a headache. If necessary, you can give your child liquid paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with the medication to check if it’s suitable for you or your child and find out the correct dose. Children under 16 years of age should not be given aspirin.


Treatment with antibiotics is not recommended for diarrhoea if the cause is unknown. This is because antibiotics:

  • will not work if the diarrhoea is caused by a virus
  • can cause unpleasant side effects
  • can become less effective at treating more serious conditions if they’re repeatedly used to treat mild conditions

Antibiotics may be recommended if you have severe diarrhoea and a specific type of bacteria has been identified as the cause.

They may also be used if you have an underlying health problem, such as a weakened immune system.

Hospital treatment

Occasionally, hospital treatment may be needed if you or your child are seriously dehydrated. Treatment will involve administering fluids and nutrients directly into a vein (intravenously).

Treating the underlying cause

If you’ve been diagnosed with a specific condition that’s causing your diarrhoea, treating this may help improve your symptoms.

For example:

  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be treated with changes to your diet and medications – read more about treating IBS
  • inflammatory bowel disease can be treated with medications that help reduce inflammation in the bowel
  • coeliac disease can be treated by excluding foods containing gluten from your diet – read more about treating coeliac disease
  • bile acid malabsorption can be treated with medication that helps stop bile building up in the digestive system

Read more about common causes of diarrhoea.


  • Larger text sizeLarge text sizeRegular text size

What Is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is frequent soft or loose bowel movements (poop). Most kids have diarrhea from time to time. It usually doesn’t last long and often gets better on its own.

What Causes Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is usually caused by an infection in the intestines. The germs that cause the infection are:

  • viruses (most common)
  • bacteria
  • parasites


Viral gastroenteritis (often called the “stomach flu”) is a common illness in children. It causes diarrhea and, often, nausea and vomiting. The symptoms usually last a few days, but kids (especially babies) who can’t take enough liquids may become dehydrated.

Rotavirus affects babies and young kids and can bring on watery diarrhea. Outbreaks are more common in the winter and early spring months, especially in childcare centers. The rotavirus vaccine can protect children from this illness.

Enteroviruses, like coxsackievirus, also can cause diarrhea in kids, especially during the summer months.


Many different types of bacteria can cause diarrhea, including E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Shigella. These bacteria are often responsible for cases of “food poisoning,” which can cause diarrhea and vomiting within a few hours after someone is infected.


Parasitic infections that can cause diarrhea in children include giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis.

What Else Can Cause Diarrhea?

Kids can sometimes get diarrhea from:

  • a high-sugar diet (for instance, from drinking lots of juice)
  • food allergies
  • lactose intolerance
  • problems in the intestines like celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Diarrhea?

Kids often get crampy belly pain first, followed by diarrhea that can last 3–5 days. Other symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea (an uncomfortable feeling before vomiting)
  • vomiting
  • weight loss
  • dehydration

How Do Doctors Find the Cause of Diarrhea?

Doctors will:

  • ask about what the child ate most recently, when symptoms began, and how often the diarrhea is happening
  • ask specific questions about the diarrhea: Is it watery? Is there blood in the poop?
  • do an exam
  • sometimes, take a stool (poop) sample to send to a lab for analysis. This helps them find out which germ is causing the illness.

How Is Diarrhea Treated?

Viral diarrhea goes away on its own. Most kids with bacterial diarrhea need treatment with an antibiotic. Parasites always need treatment with anti-parasitic medicines.

Kids who aren’t vomiting or becoming dehydrated can continue eating and drinking or breastfeeding as usual. Continuing a regular diet may even shorten the diarrhea episode. You may want to serve smaller portions of food until the diarrhea ends.

Don’t give your child an over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medicine unless your doctor tells you to do so.

What if My Child Is Dehydrated?

For kids who show signs of mild dehydration, doctors recommend giving oral rehydration solutions (ORS). These are available in most grocery stores and drugstores without a prescription and replace body fluids as needed. Your doctor will tell you what kind to give, how much, and for how long.

Kids should not be rehydrated with water alone because it doesn’t contain the right mix of sodium, potassium, and other important minerals and nutrients.

In some cases, kids with severe diarrhea may need to get IV fluids (given into a vein) at the hospital for a few hours to help treat the dehydration.

How Can Diarrhea Be Prevented?

It’s almost impossible to prevent kids from ever getting diarrhea. But there are some ways to make it less likely:

  • Make sure kids wash their hands well and often, especially after using the toilet and before eating. Hand washing is the best way to prevent diarrheal infections that pass from person to person. Dirty hands carry germs into the body when kids bite their nails, suck their thumbs, eat with their fingers, or put any part of their hands into their mouths.
  • Keep bathroom surfaces like sinks and toilets clean.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating.
  • Clean kitchen counters and cooking utensils well after they’ve been in contact with raw meat, especially poultry.
  • Refrigerate meats as soon as possible after bringing them home from the store. Cook them until they’re no longer pink. Refrigerate all leftovers as soon as possible.
  • Never drink from streams, springs, or lakes unless local health authorities have checked that the water is safe for drinking.
  • Avoid washing pet cages or bowls in the same sink that you use to prepare food. And try to keep pet feeding areas separate from family eating areas.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if your child has diarrhea and is younger than 6 months old. Also call if your child has:

  • diarrhea many times a day or it lasts for more than 3 days
  • repeated vomiting and can’t or won’t drink fluids
  • severe belly pain
  • diarrhea that has blood in it

Call the doctor right away if your child seems dehydrated. Signs include:

  • a dry or sticky mouth
  • few or no tears when crying
  • eyes that look sunken
  • in a baby, the soft spot (fontanelle) on top of the head looks sunken
  • peeing less or fewer wet diapers
  • drowsiness or dizziness

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD Date reviewed: January 2019

What are the causes of loose stools?

Chronic conditions that can cause diarrhea include:

3. Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition affecting the digestive system. Diarrhea and loose stools are a common symptom of IBS. Other symptoms can include:

  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal bloating
  • constipation
  • gas
  • indigestion

4. Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic condition causing inflammation in the colon and rectum. People with UC often experience loose stools and diarrhea. Other symptoms of UC include:

  • abdominal pain
  • frequent bowel movements
  • fatigue
  • appetite and weight loss
  • mouth ulcers
  • joint pain
  • skin irritation
  • eye irritation

5. Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition where the lining of the digestive system becomes inflamed. It can cause diarrhea and loose stools. Other symptoms can include:

  • abdominal pain
  • blood in fecal matter
  • appetite and weight loss
  • fatigue

6. Celiac disease

Share on PinterestPeople with celiac disease who consume gluten, may experience loose stools.

Celiac disease is a common condition in which the consumption of gluten causes an inflammation of the small intestine. People who have consumed gluten may experience loose stools and diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal bloating
  • gas
  • constipation
  • indigestion
  • skin irritation
  • fatigue
  • weight loss

7. Bile acid malabsorption

Several disorders of the liver and gallbladder can impair the action of bile, preventing the proper breakdown of fats in the intestine. For example, this can occur in people with gallstones or liver cirrhosis. Bile acid malabsorption can cause diarrhea or loose stools.

8. Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)

An overactive thyroid is where the thyroid gland produces too many hormones, interfering with its normal functioning. This can cause loose stools or diarrhea. Other symptoms can include:

  • mood instability
  • poor regulation of sleep
  • swelling around the neck
  • erratic body temperature
  • irritability
  • weight loss
  • trembling

9. Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is a condition where the inflammation occurs in the pancreas. It can impair the proper breakdown of fats, starches, and proteins. This can cause loose stools or diarrhea.

Other symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting

10. Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a long-term condition where mucus builds up in the lungs and digestive system. This can interfere with digestion and cause loose stools or diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

  • recurring chest infections
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty gaining weight
  • a persistent cough

11. Dumping syndrome (rapid gastric emptying)

Dumping syndrome is a condition where food moves from the stomach to the bowel too quickly. It often occurs after weight-loss surgery. It can cause loose stools and diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • abnormal heartbeat

Symptoms & Causes of Diarrhea

What are the symptoms of diarrhea?

The main symptom of diarrhea is passing loose, watery stools three or more times a day.

People with diarrhea may also have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • an urgent need to use the bathroom
  • cramping
  • loss of control of bowel movements
  • nausea
  • pain in the abdomen

People with diarrhea caused by some infections may also have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • bloody stools
  • fever and chills
  • light-headedness and dizziness
  • vomiting

Diarrhea may cause dehydration and malabsorption.

What are the symptoms of dehydration and malabsorption?

Dehydration and malabsorption can be serious complications of diarrhea. Their symptoms in adults, infants, toddlers, and young children are as follows.


Symptoms of dehydration in adults may include:

  • thirst
  • urinating less than usual
  • feeling tired
  • dark-colored urine
  • dry mouth
  • decreased skin turgor, meaning that when your skin is pinched and released, the skin does not flatten back to normal right away
  • sunken eyes or cheeks
  • light-headedness or fainting

Signs of dehydration in infants, toddlers, and young children may include

  • thirst
  • urinating less than usual, or no wet diapers for 3 hours or more
  • lack of energy
  • dry mouth
  • no tears when crying
  • decreased skin turgor
  • sunken eyes, cheeks, or soft spot in the skull


Symptoms of malabsorption in adults may include

  • bloating
  • changes in appetite
  • gas
  • loose, greasy, foul-smelling bowel movements
  • weight loss

Symptoms of malabsorption in infants, toddlers, and young children may include

  • bloating
  • changes in appetite
  • gas
  • loose, greasy, foul-smelling bowel movements
  • weight loss or poor weight gain

What causes diarrhea?

Acute and persistent diarrhea may have causes that are different from those of chronic diarrhea. In many cases, doctors do not find the cause of diarrhea. Most diarrhea goes away on its own within 4 days, and finding the cause is not necessary.

Acute and persistent diarrhea

The most common causes of acute and persistent diarrhea are infections, travelers’ diarrhea, and side effects of medicines.


Three types of infections that cause diarrhea include

  • Viral infections. Many viruses cause diarrhea, including norovirus and rotavirus. Viral gastroenteritis is a common cause of acute diarrhea.

  • Bacterial infections. Several types of bacteria can enter your body through contaminated food or water and cause diarrhea. Common bacteria that cause diarrhea include Campylobacter, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, and Shigella.

  • Parasitic infections. Parasites can enter your body through food or water and settle in your digestive tract. Parasites that cause diarrhea include Cryptosporidium enteritis, Entamoeba histolytica, and Giardia lamblia.

Infections in the digestive tract that spread through foods or drinks are called foodborne illnesses.

Infections lasting more than 2 weeks and less than 4 weeks can cause persistent diarrhea.

Travelers’ diarrhea

Travelers’ diarrhea is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Travelers’ diarrhea is most often acute. However, some parasites cause diarrhea that lasts longer. Travelers’ diarrhea can be a problem for people traveling to developing countries.

Travelers’ diarrhea can be a problem for people traveling to developing countries.

Side effects of medicines

Many medicines may cause diarrhea. Medicines that may cause diarrhea include antibiotics, antacids containing magnesium, and medicines used to treat cancer.

Chronic diarrhea

Some infections, food allergies and intolerances, digestive tract problems, abdominal surgery, and long-term use of medicines can cause chronic diarrhea.


Some infections from bacteria and parasites that cause diarrhea do not go away quickly without treatment. Also, after an infection, people may have problems digesting carbohydrates such as lactose or proteins in foods such as cow’s milk, milk products, or soy. Problems digesting carbohydrates or proteins can prolong diarrhea.

Food allergies and intolerances

Allergies to foods such as cow’s milk, soy, cereal grains, eggs, and seafood may cause chronic diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance is a common condition that may cause diarrhea after eating foods or drinking liquids that contain milk or milk products.

Fructose intolerance is a condition that may cause diarrhea after eating foods or drinking liquids that contain fructose, a sugar found in fruits, fruit juices, and honey. Fructose is added to many foods and soft drinks as a sweetener called high-fructose corn syrup.

Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol may cause diarrhea in some people. Sugar-free candies and gum often include these sugar alcohols.

Digestive tract problems

Digestive tract problems that may cause chronic diarrhea include

  • celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • irritable bowel syndrome and other functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
  • small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
  • ulcerative colitis

Abdominal surgery

You may develop chronic diarrhea after abdominal surgery. Abdominal surgery is an operation on the appendix, gallbladder, large intestine, liver, pancreas, small intestine, spleen, or stomach.

Long-term use of medicines

Medicines that must be taken for a long time may cause chronic diarrhea. Some medicines, such as antibiotics, can change the normal gut flora and increase your chances of infection with Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that can cause chronic diarrhea.


What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is bowel movements (stool) that are loose and watery. Diarrhea is a common condition and is usually not serious. Many people will have diarrhea once or twice a year. It usually lasts two to three days and can be treated with over-the-counter medicines.

Some cases need medical attention because diarrhea can quickly eliminate water and salts that the body needs to function. Very young, very old, and very sick people may have difficulty replacing these lost fluids. Diarrhea that lasts for several weeks or contains blood may mean that you have a serious illness. In these cases, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Can diarrhea harm your health?

Persistent diarrhea causes the body to lose large amounts of water and nutrients. If you have diarrhea more than three times a day and you are not drinking enough fluids, you could become dehydrated. Dehydration is the loss of water from body tissues, which disturbs the balance of essential substances in your body. Dehydration can cause serious complications if it is not treated.

Tell your healthcare provider if you have persistent diarrhea and have any of the following signs of dehydration:

  • Dark urine
  • Small amount of urine
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Flushed, dry skin
  • Irritability
  • Confusion

The most common cause of diarrhea is a virus that infects the bowel. The infection usually lasts for two days and is sometimes called “intestinal flu.” Diarrhea also may be caused by:

  • Infection by bacteria
  • Infections by other organisms
  • Eating foods that upset the digestive system
  • Allergies to certain foods
  • Medications
  • Radiation therapy
  • Malabsorption of food (poor absorption)

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

The symptoms of mild diarrhea include:

  • Bloating or cramps in the abdomen
  • Thin or loose stools
  • Watery stool
  • A strong need to have a bowel movement
  • In some cases, nausea (upset stomach) and vomiting

In addition to the above symptoms, symptoms of severe diarrhea include:

  • Blood, mucus, or undigested food in the stool
  • Weight loss or dehydration (lack of water)
  • Fever
  • Severe pain

Severe diarrhea may be a sign of a more serious illness; if you have these symptoms, you should call your doctor. Contact your healthcare provider if the diarrhea continues for a long time, or if you have a fever that lasts more than 24 hours. Also, see your doctor right away if vomiting prevents you from drinking liquids to replace lost fluids.

Share Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email Get useful, helpful and relevant health + wellness information enews

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *