Diarrhea occurs when body wastes are discharged from the bowel more often and in a more liquid state than usual.

Signs & Symptoms

  1. Frequent watery, loose stools.

  2. Cramping or pain in the abdomen.


Common causes are infections that affect the digestive system, food allergies, overuse of laxatives or alcohol, and taking some antibiotics. Diarrhea is also a symptom of lactose intolerance, diverticulitis, food poisoning, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


Self-care treats most cases of diarrhea. If it is caused by a medical condition, treatment for the condition usually treats the diarrhea.

With diarrhea, does an infant or a child have any of these problems?

  1. Sunken eyes.

  2. Dry skin that doesn’t spring back when pinched.

  3. Dry diaper for more than 3 hours in an infant.

  4. Passing no urine for more than 6 hours in a child.

  5. Weak cry. Acting very weak and very sleepy.

  6. Acting very upset or cranky.

Has the diarrhea lasted 48 hours or more and/or is a fever present?

Does an infant or sick, elder person have diarrhea more than 8 times per day?

Are medicines being taken? (Medicines you take may not be working because of the diarrhea. Or, prescribed or over-the-counter ones, including herbal products, may be causing the diarrhea.)

Did diarrhea occur when you were in another country or shortly after coming back?

Self-Care / Prevention

  1. If you are also vomiting, treat this first. (See Vomiting & Nausea.)

  2. Follow a normal diet if there are no signs of dehydration. (See Dehydration.)

  3. Until the diarrhea subsides, avoid caffeine, milk products, and foods that are greasy, high in fiber, or very sweet.

  4. Don’t exercise too hard until the diarrhea is gone.

  5. Adults can try an over-the-counter medicine, such as Imodium A-D or Pepto-Bismol. Follow the directions listed on the label. {Note: Stools can become black after taking Pepto-Bismol. Also, do not give aspirin or any medication that has salicylates, such as Pepto-Bismol, to anyone under 19 years of age, due to the link to Reye’s Syndrome.}

  6. Wash your hands after you go to the toilet and before you prepare food. Use paper towels to dry your hands. Throw the towels away.

If There Are Signs of Dehydration

  1. Stop solid foods. Drink clear liquids. Fluids of choice are:

  2. -Broths; sport drinks like Gatorade; and Kool-Aid (this usually has less sugar than juices and soda pop).

  3. -For children under 2, give over-the-counter mixtures, such as Infalyte and Pedialyte as advised.

  4. -If you breast-feed, give only as much milk as your baby wants. Feed every 2 hours.

  5. Avoid giving these liquids:

  6. -High “simple” sugar drinks like apple juice, grape juice, regular colas, other sodas, and gelatin. These can pull water into the gut and make the diarrhea persist. If necessary, dilute clear juices and sodas with water.

  7. -Milk, especially if it is boiled.

  8. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

  9. Adults should have around 2 cups of fluid per hour (if vomiting isn’t present). For children under age 2, consult their doctor about the amount and type of fluids. For children over age 2, give up to 6 cups of fluid per day.

  10. Don’t give just clear liquids for more than 48 hours.

  11. Start eating more solid meals within 12 hours. Start with foods that are easy to digest, such as rice, potatoes, crackers, and toast.

  12. Eat yogurt with live cultures of lactobacillus acidophilus (unless you are lactose intolerant). Choose foods that don’t upset your stomach.

  13. Avoid fatty and fried foods.

  14. You don’t need to follow a B.R.A.T. diet. The B.R.A.T. diet is having just bananas (ripe), rice, applesauce, and toast (dry). It is okay to eat these foods, though.

With diarrhea, does an adult have any of these problems?

  1. Bloody, maroon, or tarlike stools.

  2. Very severe abdominal or rectal pain.

  3. Signs of severe dehydration.

Questions to Ask

  1. Digestive & Urinary Problems