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Learn about your diarrhea, including causes and common questions. Or get a personalized analysis of your diarrhea from our A.I. Symptom Checker. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Your Diarrhea May Also be Known as:
Frequent bowel movements
Liquid poop
Liquid stool
Loose stool
Loose stools
Poop is softer
Runny poop
Soft poop
Soft stool

Diarrhea Symptoms

Nobody likes the runs, the trots, diarrhea—whatever you call it, it sucks.

First, none of the terms sound too alluring; second, having diarrhea doesn't feel so good. Plus, it can greatly impact your dating and workaday life, making being near a bathroom a constant necessity in case you must go not just now, but RIGHT NOW!

Diarrhea is typically characterized by loose or watery stools that occur at least three times within a 24- hour period. Depending on the cause of the diarrhea, there may be other symptoms as well.

Of course, diarrhea is a common condition, experienced by most people a few times per year. Most of the time, diarrhea is due to a viral stomach infection (stomach flu) or from eating certain foods, like Kung Pao Chicken with extra chilies.

Unless there is an infection present, diarrhea should not last more than two days. If diarrhea persists longer than this, especially if it lasts more than a week, an infection could be present, or a gut condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn's, or a less serious disorder called IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

Typically, diarrhea not caused by eating spicy foods or trying a totally vegan diet for the first time is because someone has been infected with a virus or has food poisoning.

Both rotaviruses and noroviruses can cause conditions like stomach flu, an easily transmitted infection which causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Food poisoning also causes diarrhea because of a bacterial infection caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. Parasitic infections can cause diarrhea as well. However, these types of infections are highly uncommon in industrialized countries but may be contracted by those who travel to still-developing areas of the world.

Diarrhea may or may not be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, stomach pain, rectal bleeding, fatigue and/or weight loss. Fortunately, almost all cases of diarrhea will stop on their own, even without treatment, within 2-3 days.

Let's take a detailed look at the top five causes of diarrhea.

Diarrhea Causes Overview

Causes of diarrhea include:

  • Viral infection: Norovirus causes symptoms like nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. Most of the time, you can quite easily figure out who gave you the virus. They will be the guy or gal who missed school or work a few days before. Norovirus is highly contagious and young children often bring it home from school.

  • Food-borne illness: The diarrhea symptoms caused by food poisoning are acute – meaning they have an onset and quick end, typically beginning 20 minutes to several days after ingesting contaminated food. Depending on the contaminating bacteria, food poisoning may or may not cause nausea, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, fever, chills and stomach pain. Though most cases of bacterial diarrhea will resolve on their own, some can cause life-threatening complications, such as hemolytic uremic syndrome.

  • Medication: Medications of all kinds can cause diarrhea, especially laxatives and sometimesother medications, such as antibiotics, antacids, some chemotherapy drugs, and metformin (used to treat diabetes).

  • Food allergies: Sensitivity to a food can cause diarrhea in some individuals.

  • Lactose intolerance : an inability to tolerate milk/dairy.

  • Celiac disease : intolerance of gluten from wheat, rye and barley.

  • Inflammatory bowel diseases – Crohn's and ulcerative colitis: Diarrhea caused by inflammatory bowel diseases like IBD typically cause rectal bleeding, weight loss and fatigue. IBD requires specialized medical treatment.

  • Colon cancer: Colon cancer can cause both diarrhea and constipation. Other symptoms bright red blood in the toilet or on the toilet paper after a bowel movement, stomach pain, fatigue, weight loss, and anemia.

Top 7 Diarrhea Causes

  1. 1.Normal Occurrence of Diarrhea

    Diarrhea has numerous causes including bacteria, viruses, parasites, medications, food intolerance & digestive system diseases.

    If your diarrhea looks normal, treatment is not necessary. Make sure to stay hydrated. If the diarrhea becomes severe, you should see a doctor.

    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, mild diarrhea
    Symptoms that always occur with normal occurrence of diarrhea:
    Symptoms that never occur with normal occurrence of diarrhea:
    bloody diarrhea, severe diarrhea, worsening diarrhea, being severely ill, ill appearance
  2. 2.Traveler's Diarrhea

    Traveler's diarrhea is a digestive tract disorder that commonly causes loose stools and abdominal cramps. It's caused by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.

    You can safely treat this condition by drinking lots of fluids to avoid dehydration. Taking an antidiarrheal medication such as loperamide (Imodium) may help as well.

    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), stomach bloating, fever
    Symptoms that always occur with traveler's diarrhea:
    Symptoms that never occur with traveler's diarrhea:
  3. 3.Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is very common problem that affects the large intestine. It can cause stomach pain, cramps, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Doctors think that IBS is caused by the brain sending wrong messages to the bowels, such as during times of high stress, causing physical changes.

    While many people with IBS try to cope with the condition on their own, it could make a big difference if you talk to your doctor. They may be able to recommend a variety of treatments such as medication, diet counseling, or alternative therapies.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), constipation, nausea or vomiting, stool changes
    Primary care doctor

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  4. 4.Food Poisoning

    Food poisoning is a common ailment that causes gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is caused by improperly handled or unrefrigerated food.

    Bacterial food poisoning causes uncomfortable symptoms, but you can safely manage this condition at home. Make sure you drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration, and an over-the counter antidiarrheal medication such as loperamide (Imodium) may help.

    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), dizziness
    Symptoms that never occur with food poisoning:
    severe fever, being severely ill, bloody diarrhea
  5. 5.Recurrent Depression

    Depression, once diagnosed, can often recur with new episodes. Sometimes these episodes can be similar to ones in the past, sometimes the symptoms can be different. It's good to be aware off the fact that people who had a depression before, remain vulnerable.

    You should discuss your symptoms with your primary care physician or psychiatrist. Resumption of, or adjustment to current treatment is often needed.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, stomach bloating, loss of appetite
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Side - Effect(s) of Chemotherapy

    Unfortunately, chemotherapy has many side-effects, ranging from hair loss to fatigue to nausea. This occurs because the treatment affects not only diseased cells but also healthy cells.

    You should discuss your symptoms with your oncologist or oncology nurse.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, fever, dizziness
    Symptoms that never occur with side-effect(s) of chemotherapy:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Lactose Intolerance

    Lactose intolerance is the inability to fully digest a sugar (lactose) in milk. This results in discomfort, gas, and maybe even stool changes shortly after ingesting a dairy product.

    You can treat these symptoms yourself by trying to limiting consumption of dairy products or switching to non-dairy alternatives. You can also take a pill that has the enzyme that you are missing.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), stomach bloating, constipation, diarrhea

Diarrhea Treatments and Relief

Most diarrhea will stop on its own after 3-7 days. During that time, it is important to stay well hydrated and have a healthy intake of sodium, which helps you maintain hydration. IV rehydration might be necessary if food and beverages by mouth are not well tolerated.

Binding foods can help the intestines absorb more water, resulting in better formed stools.

Binding foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Rice, potatoes, noodles and crackers
  • Apples
  • Toast made from wheat or oat flour
  • Yogurt (though other dairy products could exacerbate diarrhea)

Medications like loperamide or bismuth salicylate and diphenoxylate are anti-diarrheal and could also provide some temporary relief.

You should seek immediate care for diarrhea symptoms if you:

  • have had diarrhea for more than 24 hours
  • have more than 6 loose stools in 24 hours
  • have small bowel movements stained with blood or mucous
  • have diarrhea that is bloody or black
  • have severe abdominal pain
  • have signs of dehydration (dry mouth, dizziness, confusion, muscle cramping, excessive thirst)
  • have a fever (>100.4)
  • are over 70 years old
  • are pregnant
  • have just finished taking a course of antibiotics

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Diarrhea

  • Q.Has your diarrhea gotten better or worse?
  • Q.How long has your diarrhea been going on?
  • Q.How many times have you had diarrhea in the last 24 hours?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our diarrhea symptom checker.

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Diarrhea Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced diarrhea have also experienced:

    • 14% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 10% Nausea
    • 6% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced diarrhea had symptoms persist for:

    • 37% Less Than a Week
    • 35% Less Than a Day
    • 13% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced diarrhea were most often matched with:

    • 7% Normal Occurrence of Diarrhea
    • 4% Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)
    • 1% Traveler's Diarrhea

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Try our diarrhea symptom checker to diagnose your current condition

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Check my diarrhea symptoms

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having diarrhea symptoms

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