Signs & Symptoms   |    Causes   |    Treatment   |    Questions to Ask   |    Self-Care/Prevention

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

Abdominal Pain

Signs & Symptoms

•  Frequent watery, loose stools.

•  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 usually treats diarrhea. The goal is to replace lost fluids and minerals to prevent dehydration.

Questions to Ask

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) www2.niddk.nih.gov

Self-Care / Prevention

•  If vomiting is also present, treat for vomiting first.

•  To prevent dehydration:

– Drink plenty of water and other fluids, such as sports drinks, broths, and Kool-Aid (which usually has less sugar than soda).

– Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol.

– Avoid having high “simple” sugar drinks, like apple juice, grape juice, and sodas. These can make the diarrhea persist. Or, dilute juices and sodas with water.

If you have signs of dehydration seek medical care. Until you get care, drink fluids:

•  Broths and sports drinks.

•  For children less than 2 years old, give over- the-counter mixtures, such as Pedialyte as advised by their doctors.

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

•  Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

•  Choose foods that don’t upset your stomach.

•  Do not have foods that are greasy, high in fiber, or very sweet.

•  Avoid milk, but try yogurt that has live cultures of lactobacillus acidophilus (unless you are lactose intolerant).

•  Follow a light diet. Eat foods that are easy to digest, such as:

– Bananas.

– Plain rice.

– Boiled potatoes.

– Toast.

– Crackers.

– Cooked carrots.

– Baked chicken without the skin or fat.

– Soups with vegetables and noodles or rice.

•  Don’t exercise too hard.

•  Adults can try an over-the-counter medicine, such as Imodium A-D or Pepto-Bismol. Follow the directions 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.}

•  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.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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