How Do I Know If I Have Diarrhea?

If your stool is watery or loose, you probably have diarrhea. Usually, patients with diarrhea will find that they need to have a bowel movement more than 5 times a day, oftentimes with only a few minutes in between each passing, because they feel like the movement is not complete or “finished.” Diarrhea can cause cramping, fever and general soreness in and around the colorectal area of the body. You’ll probably feel nauseous, tired and bloated for the duration of the condition. It is very important to drink a lot of water and other liquids while you have diarrhea, as the amount of water lost in frequent bowel movements is likely to cause dehydration. This precaution is especially necessary for younger children, since their smaller bodies only have so much fluid to lose and are therefore more susceptible to severe dehydration, body shock and other complications. Otherwise, diarrhea is usually not much of a health threat if it lasts only a few days. It can; however, be a sign of more serious underlying causes if it persists or if your stool contains blood or is strangely colored. So contact a doctor if you think this may be the case.

Why Do I Have Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is sometimes triggered by a viral or bacterial infection in the body, or an allergic reaction to food or certain antibiotics. When it is caused by a more chronic condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), your gastroenterologist will be able to work toward a treatment plan for you aimed to suppress symptoms and prevent future “flare-ups.” Chronic diseases do not necessarily have a cure, and last on and off throughout the person’s life—displaying severe, mild or no symptoms at certain times depending on the individual case. All types of diarrhea to have treatments available, but long standing diarrhea should be worked up by a medical professional.

Are There Different Kinds of Diarrhea?

Acute diarrhea is the kind that lasts less than a week. It can be caused by stress, excessive alcohol intake, excessive caffeine intake and some over-the-counter medications. On the other hand, chronic diarrhea is usually a sign that your intestinal tract (GI tract) is infected with disease. Common causes of long-term diarrhea include Irritable Bowel Syndrome, diabetes, lactose intolerance, pancreatitis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis (the last two conditions are types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease). Your doctor will be able to diagnose which condition is the culprit by performing routine colorectal screening tests, such as colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, capsule endoscopy, CT scan, EGD, endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) or simple stool tests.

How Do I Stop Diarrhea?

If the diarrhea is being caused by inflammation in your colon, you’ll need to consult a doctor about moving forward with more serious treatment, such as biopsy. However, for acute diarrhea, just try to drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated and rest while your body fights it naturally. You will most likely regain your appetite in a few days, but try to eat whenever you feel like it won’t make you feel worse, to avoid getting sick or feeling too tired. There is medication available to help control diarrhea, but if you’re treating a baby or young child, it’s best to consult a doctor first. For adults, there are also probiotics supplements that claim to treat diarrhea—but this theory is debatable among researchers, and should not be started without first discussing with your physician. Natural probiotics can be found in many yogurts and soy products, and only select over the counter probiotic pills have been proven effective in treatment of certain kinds of chronic diarrhea.


Reviewed 12/29/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014