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What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea describes bowel movements that are runny or watery, and happen 3 or more times in a day. Diarrhea is very common. Most adolescents and adults have diarrhea about 4 times a year. Just about everyone has it at some point.

What causes diarrhea?

Diarrhea can be caused by:


Bacteria that live in food or water

Parasites, such as tiny worms that you can catch in some countries

Side effects from some medicines

Problems digesting certain types of food

Diseases that harm the digestive system

Is there anything I can do on my own to get better?

Yes. Here are some things you can try at home:

Drink a lot of liquids that have water, salt, and sugar. Good choices are water mixed with juice, flavored soda, and soup broth. If you are drinking enough fluids, your urine will be light yellow or almost clear.

Try to eat a little food. Good choices are potatoes, noodles, rice, oatmeal, crackers, bananas, soup, and boiled vegetables. Salty foods also help.

Should I see a doctor or nurse?

See your doctor or nurse if:

You have more than 6 runny bowel movements in 24 hours

You have blood in your bowel movements

You have a fever higher than 101.3ºF (38.5ºC) that does not go away after a day

You have severe belly pain

You are 70 or older

Your body has lost too much water. This is called "dehydration." Signs include:

Lots of diarrhea that is very watery

Feeling very tired


Dry mouth or tongue

Muscle cramps



Urine that is very yellow, or not needing to urinate for more than 5 hours

Can diarrhea be prevented?

You can reduce your chances of getting and spreading diarrhea by:

Washing your hands after changing diapers, cooking, eating, going to the bathroom, taking out the trash, touching animals, and blowing your nose.

Staying home from work or school until you feel better.

Paying attention to food safety. Tips include:

Not drinking unpasteurized milk or foods made with it

Washing fruits and vegetables well before eating them

Keeping the refrigerator colder than 40ºF and the freezer below 0ºF

Cooking meat and seafood until well done

Cooking eggs until the yolk is firm

Washing hands, knives, and cutting boards after they touch raw food

ReferenceThis topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 12, 2020.

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