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When you have diarrhea

Show Alternative Names
Diarrhea - self-care
Diarrhea - gastroenteritis

Diarrhea is the passage of loose or watery stool. For some, diarrhea is mild and will go away within a few days. For others, it may last longer. It can make you lose too much fluid (dehydrated) and feel weak. It can also lead to unhealthy weight loss.

The stomach flu is a common cause of diarrhea. Medical treatments, such as antibiotics and some cancer treatments can also cause diarrhea.

Video Transcript

Diarrhea - Animation

Diarrhea isn't something most people want to talk about, much less have. Not only can diarrhea be uncomfortable, with gas, bloating, and that mad dash to the toilet, but it's a sign that you're either sick, or you've eaten something that really didn't agree with you. With diarrhea, the stools become loose and watery instead of solid. If you have diarrhea, there's a good chance you picked up a stomach virus. Or, you may have gotten food poisoning from eating food or drinking water that was contaminated with bacteria. A lot of people get sick from tainted food while traveling, because they're not used to the food and water in the foreign country. This is called traveler's diarrhea. Certain diseases that affect your intestines can cause diarrhea, including celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. If you've taken medications such as antibiotics or laxatives, diarrhea can be an unpleasant side effect. Protect your stomach by giving it healthy bacteria called probiotics. You can find them in yogurt and supplements. Among other things, probiotics help crowd out the bad bacteria that cause diarrhea. To avoid getting sick, wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer so bacteria can't get into your body. And when you travel to areas that may have unclean water, drink only bottled water without ice. Also avoid eating any uncooked fruits or vegetables that don't have a peel. Usually diarrhea goes away by itself pretty quickly, but it can stick around for a few days or even weeks. Loose stools are very watery, and they can dehydrate you pretty quickly. Stay hydrated by drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of clear liquids a day. Drink one glass every time you have a loose bowel movement. To replace the electrolytes you're also losing with diarrhea, consider an electrolyte drink or rehydration solution. Also you may want to eat soup, pretzels, and other salty foods, as well as bananas and other high-potassium foods. Infants and children are especially likely to get dehydrated from diarrhea, and this can be really dangerous. You can tell your baby is dehydrated because his mouth will be dry, he'll make fewer wet diapers, and he won't produce tears when he cries. To keep your child hydrated, give 2 tablespoons of fluid every 30 to 60 minutes. You can use breast milk, formula, broth, or a solution like B.R.A.T. or Pedialyte, which also comes in a kid-friendly popsicle form. Diarrhea is an unpleasant, but fortunately short-term affliction most of the time. If it does stick around, call your doctor. The doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, where you've been traveling, and what new medicines you've taken or foods you've eaten. Until you're feeling better, drink plenty of fluids so you don't get dehydrated.

Test Your Knowledge About Diarrhea in Kids

  • Which of these statements about diarrhea in children is true?

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. Children with diarrhea often do not feel well, but mild cases may clear up in just a few days. More severe diarrhea may last longer. Changing what children with diarrhea eat and drink can help them feel better.
  • It can be hard to tell if a baby has diarrhea.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is true. It’s normal for babies’ stools to be soft and loose, plus they have frequent bowel movements in their first couple of months. Babies who suddenly start having more bowel movements may have diarrhea. Other signs include having more than one stool per feeding and watery stools.
  • Which of these can cause diarrhea in children?

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. Whatever causes their diarrhea, children need to drink plenty of fluids so they don’t get dehydrated. They also may need to change their eating habits for awhile. Ask your doctor before giving over-the-counter medicines for diarrhea. These drugs can make some infections worse.
  • Diarrhea can irritate a baby’s skin. What will help prevent a rash?

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is A, B and C. Changing baby's diaper often can help prevent a rash. Let your baby’s bottom air out after you remove a wet diaper. Before putting on a clean diaper, apply a diaper cream or ointment to help soothe a sore bottom. Comforting your baby will help your little one feel better, but it won't prevent a rash.
  • Children with diarrhea can drink which of the following to replace lost fluids?

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. Popsicles and JELL-O are other good choices for clear fluids, especially when a child is vomiting. You can get a lot of fluids into your child slowly this way and not overfill the stomach. Infants should have breast milk or Pedialyte. Use watered-down formula only as a short-term treatment.
  • There is no "best" diet for children with diarrhea.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is true. However, children usually tolerate bland foods better. In most cases, you should continue feeding your baby or child as usual. Most children can keep up with the nutrients lost through diarrhea if they eat more. Always continue breast-feeding or formula feeding babies.
  • Yogurt with live active cultures may help children whose diarrhea is caused by:

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is antibiotics. Diarrhea caused by antibiotics may get better when children eat yogurt with live active cultures. Check the label to make sure it’s the right yogurt. If the diarrhea doesn’t improve, check with the doctor to discuss changing or stopping the child’s antibiotic.
  • Which of the following is a sign your child needs more fluids?

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. A child who needs water passes dark yellow urine and will urinate less. Call your doctor if your child starts to show signs of dehydration, has blood or mucus in the stool, a persistent fever, or stomach pain.
  • Children can avoid getting diarrhea when traveling out of the country by only drinking:

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is bottled water. When traveling in developing countries, you can also lower your chances of getting diarrhea by avoiding uncooked vegetables or fruits that don’t have peels, raw shellfish, and undercooked meat.
  • This healthy habit can lower the risk for illnesses that cause diarrhea:

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. It’s never too early to start teaching children what they can do to stay healthy.

How to Relieve Diarrhea

These things may help you feel better if you have diarrhea:

  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of clear fluids every day. Water is best.
  • Drink at least 1 cup (240 milliliters) of liquid every time you have a loose bowel movement.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day, instead of 3 big meals.
  • Eat some salty foods, such as pretzels, soup, and sports drinks.
  • Eat some high potassium foods, such as bananas, potatoes without the skin, and fruit juices.

Ask your health care provider if you should take a multivitamin or drink sports drinks to boost your nutrition. Also ask about taking a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil, to add bulk to your stools.

Your provider may also recommend a special medicine for diarrhea. Take this medicine as you have been told to take it.

Eating When you Have Diarrhea

You can bake or broil beef, pork, chicken, fish, or turkey. Cooked eggs are also OK. Use low-fat milk, cheese, or yogurt.

If you have very severe diarrhea, you may need to stop eating or drinking dairy products for a few days.

Eat bread products made from refined, white flour. Pasta, white rice, and cereals such as cream of wheat, farina, oatmeal, and cornflakes are OK. You may also try pancakes and waffles made with white flour, and cornbread. But don't add too much honey or syrup.

You should eat vegetables, including carrots, green beans, mushrooms, beets, asparagus tips, acorn squash, and peeled zucchini. Cook them first. Baked potatoes are OK. In general, removing seeds and skins is best.

You can include desserts and snacks such as fruit-flavored gelatin, fruit-flavored ice pops, cakes, cookies, or sherbet.

Things you Should Avoid Eating or Drinking

You should avoid certain kinds of foods when you have diarrhea, including fried foods and greasy foods.

Avoid fruits and vegetables that can cause gas, such as broccoli, peppers, beans, peas, berries, prunes, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables, and corn.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.

Limit or cut out milk and other dairy products if they are making your diarrhea worse or causing gas and bloating.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider if you have:

  • The diarrhea gets worse or does not get better in 2 days for an infant or child, or 5 days for adults
  • Stools with an unusual odor or color
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blood or mucus in your stool
  • A fever that does not go away
  • Stomach pain

Text only

Review Date: 10/2/2019

Reviewed By

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

References

Bartelt LA, Guerrant RL. Diarrhea with little or no fever. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 98.

Shiller LR, Sellin JH. Diarrhea. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 16.

Disclaimer

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

 

Diarrhea - Animation

Diarrhea isn't something most people want to talk about, much less have. Not only can diarrhea be uncomfortable, with gas, bloating, and that mad dash to the toilet, but it's a sign that you're either sick, or you've eaten something that really didn't agree with you.

With diarrhea, the stools become loose and watery instead of solid. If you have diarrhea, there's a good chance you picked up a stomach virus. Or, you may have gotten food poisoning from eating food or drinking water that was contaminated with bacteria. A lot of people get sick from tainted food while traveling, because they're not used to the food and water in the foreign country. This is called traveler's diarrhea.

Certain diseases that affect your intestines can cause diarrhea, including celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. If you've taken medications such as antibiotics or laxatives, diarrhea can be an unpleasant side effect.

Protect your stomach by giving it healthy bacteria called probiotics. You can find them in yogurt and supplements. Among other things, probiotics help crowd out the bad bacteria that cause diarrhea.

To avoid getting sick, wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer so bacteria can't get into your body. And when you travel to areas that may have unclean water, drink only bottled water without ice. Also avoid eating any uncooked fruits or vegetables that don't have a peel.

Usually diarrhea goes away by itself pretty quickly, but it can stick around for a few days or even weeks. Loose stools are very watery, and they can dehydrate you pretty quickly. Stay hydrated by drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of clear liquids a day. Drink one glass every time you have a loose bowel movement. To replace the electrolytes you're also losing with diarrhea, consider an electrolyte drink or rehydration solution. Also you may want to eat soup, pretzels, and other salty foods, as well as bananas and other high-potassium foods.

Infants and children are especially likely to get dehydrated from diarrhea, and this can be really dangerous. You can tell your baby is dehydrated because his mouth will be dry, he'll make fewer wet diapers, and he won't produce tears when he cries. To keep your child hydrated, give 2 tablespoons of fluid every 30 to 60 minutes. You can use breast milk, formula, broth, or a solution like B.R.A.T. or Pedialyte, which also comes in a kid-friendly popsicle form.

Diarrhea is an unpleasant, but fortunately short-term affliction most of the time. If it does stick around, call your doctor. The doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, where you've been traveling, and what new medicines you've taken or foods you've eaten. Until you're feeling better, drink plenty of fluids so you don't get dehydrated.

 

Diarrhea - Animation

Diarrhea isn't something most people want to talk about, much less have. Not only can diarrhea be uncomfortable, with gas, bloating, and that mad dash to the toilet, but it's a sign that you're either sick, or you've eaten something that really didn't agree with you.

With diarrhea, the stools become loose and watery instead of solid. If you have diarrhea, there's a good chance you picked up a stomach virus. Or, you may have gotten food poisoning from eating food or drinking water that was contaminated with bacteria. A lot of people get sick from tainted food while traveling, because they're not used to the food and water in the foreign country. This is called traveler's diarrhea.

Certain diseases that affect your intestines can cause diarrhea, including celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. If you've taken medications such as antibiotics or laxatives, diarrhea can be an unpleasant side effect.

Protect your stomach by giving it healthy bacteria called probiotics. You can find them in yogurt and supplements. Among other things, probiotics help crowd out the bad bacteria that cause diarrhea.

To avoid getting sick, wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer so bacteria can't get into your body. And when you travel to areas that may have unclean water, drink only bottled water without ice. Also avoid eating any uncooked fruits or vegetables that don't have a peel.

Usually diarrhea goes away by itself pretty quickly, but it can stick around for a few days or even weeks. Loose stools are very watery, and they can dehydrate you pretty quickly. Stay hydrated by drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of clear liquids a day. Drink one glass every time you have a loose bowel movement. To replace the electrolytes you're also losing with diarrhea, consider an electrolyte drink or rehydration solution. Also you may want to eat soup, pretzels, and other salty foods, as well as bananas and other high-potassium foods.

Infants and children are especially likely to get dehydrated from diarrhea, and this can be really dangerous. You can tell your baby is dehydrated because his mouth will be dry, he'll make fewer wet diapers, and he won't produce tears when he cries. To keep your child hydrated, give 2 tablespoons of fluid every 30 to 60 minutes. You can use breast milk, formula, broth, or a solution like B.R.A.T. or Pedialyte, which also comes in a kid-friendly popsicle form.

Diarrhea is an unpleasant, but fortunately short-term affliction most of the time. If it does stick around, call your doctor. The doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, where you've been traveling, and what new medicines you've taken or foods you've eaten. Until you're feeling better, drink plenty of fluids so you don't get dehydrated.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 

 
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