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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Diarrhea, Age 12 and Older
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Diarrhea occurs when there is an increase in the number of bowel movements or bowel movements are more watery and loose than normal. When the intestines push stools through the bowel before the water in the stool can be reabsorbed, diarrhea occurs. It can also occur when inflammation of the bowel lining causes excess fluid to leak into the stool. Abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or a fever may occur along with the diarrhea.
Diarrhea is one of the most commonly occurring health problems affecting all ages. Most adults will have 4 episodes of diarrhea each year. Diarrhea that comes on suddenly may last up to 14 days.
Diarrhea has many causes.
Many times the exact cause of diarrhea is hard to determine. Almost everyone has an occasional bout of diarrhea. Although diarrhea is annoying, most cases are not serious and will clear up with home treatment.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
If you're not sure if a fever is high, moderate, or mild, think about these issues:
With a high fever:
With a moderate fever:
With a mild fever:
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it. For adults and children age 12 and older, these are the ranges for high, moderate, and mild, according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth) temperature
A forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature.
Armpit (axillary) temperature
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
You can get dehydrated when you lose a lot of fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe dehydration means:
Moderate dehydration means:
Mild dehydration means:
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause diarrhea. A few examples are:
It is easy for your diabetes to become out of control when you are sick. Because of an illness:
An illness plan for people with diabetes usually covers things like:
The plan is designed to help keep your diabetes in control even though you are sick. When you have diabetes, even a minor illness can cause problems.
Blood in the stool can come from anywhere in the digestive tract, such as the stomach or intestines. Depending on where the blood is coming from and how fast it is moving, it may be bright red, reddish brown, or black like tar.
A little bit of bright red blood on the stool or on the toilet paper is often caused by mild irritation of the rectum. For example, this can happen if you have to strain hard to pass a stool or if you have a hemorrhoid.
A large amount of blood in the stool may mean a more serious problem is present. For example, if there is a lot of blood in the stool, not just on the surface, you may need to call your doctor right away. If there are just a few drops on the stool or in the diaper, you may need to let your doctor know today to discuss your symptoms. Black stools may mean you have blood in the digestive tract that may need treatment right away, or may go away on its own.
Certain medicines and foods can affect the color of stool. Diarrhea medicines (such as Pepto-Bismol) and iron tablets can make the stool black. Eating lots of beets may turn the stool red. Eating foods with black or dark blue food coloring can turn the stool black.
If you take aspirin or some other medicine (called a blood thinner) that prevents blood clots, it can cause some blood in your stools. If you take a blood thinner and have ongoing blood in your stools, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Home treatment can help you treat your diarrhea and avoid other related problems, such as dehydration.
If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor before taking any medicines for diarrhea.
Nonprescription medicines may be helpful in treating your diarrhea. Follow these tips when taking a nonprescription medicine for diarrhea:
There are several types of antidiarrheal medicines: those that absorb water and thicken the stool, and those that slow intestinal spasms.
Learn how to clean up diarrhea safely. Protect your hands with gloves while cleaning up. Wash your hands after you are done cleaning up.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Food poisoning is a common cause of diarrhea in children and adults. Most cases of food poisoning may be prevented by taking a few precautions when preparing and storing food at home. Perishable foods, such as eggs, meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and milk products, should be treated with extra care. Also, precautions should be taken if you are pregnant, have an impaired immune system or a chronic illness, or are preparing foods for other high-risk groups, such as young children or older adults.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the following steps to prevent food poisoning:
Many counties in the United States have extension services listed in the phone book. These services can answer your question about safe home canning and food preparation.
When you travel in wilderness areas or to other countries of the world, it is common to get traveler's diarrhea from food or water because the methods of food preparation are different.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of:
June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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