- Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the frequency and looseness of BMs (bowel movements, stools)
- Mild diarrhea is the passage of a few loose or mushy BMs
- Severe diarrhea is the passage of many watery BMs
- The majority of adults with diarrhea of less than two weeks duration have an infectious cause for their diarrhea, and in most cases the infection is a virus. Other common causes of acute diarrhea are food poisoning and medications.
- Maintaining good hydration is the cornerstone of treatment of adults with acute diarrhea.
- In general, an adult who is alert, feels well, and who is not thirsty or dizzy - is not dehydrated. A couple loose or runny stools do not cause dehydration. Frequent, watery stools can cause dehydration.
- Antibiotic therapy is only rarely required in the treatment of acute diarrhea. One type of acute diarrhea that requires antibiotic therapy is Traveler's Diarrhea.
See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If
Should I Call?
WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR
Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance) If
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
- You feel weak or very sick
- Fever of 103° F (39.4° C) or higher
- Signs of dehydration (e.g., no urine in more than 12 hours, very dry mouth, lightheaded, etc.)
- Severe abdominal pain
- Constant abdominal pain for more than 2 hours
- Bloody bowel movements
- Black bowel movements
- More than 10 diarrhea stools in the past 24 hours
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
- You think you need to be seen
- Fever of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher
- Abdominal pain (Exception: Pain clears with each passage of diarrhea stool)
- Mucus or pus in stool for greater than 2 days
- Small amount of blood in the stool (Exception: only on toilet paper. Reason: diarrhea can cause rectal irritation with blood on wiping)
- Recent antibiotic treatment
- Have diabetes mellitus or a weakened immune system (e.g., HIV positive, cancer chemotherapy, chronic steroid treatment, splenectomy)
- Travel to a foreign country in the past month
- Receiving tube feedings (e.g., nasogastric, g-tube, j-tube)
- Age greater than 70 years
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
- You have other questions or concerns
- Diarrhea persists for more than 7 days
- Diarrhea is a recurrent problem
Self Care at Home If
- Mild diarrhea and you don't think you need to be seen
Care at Home
HOME CARE ADVICE FOR MILD DIARRHEA
- Reassurance: In healthy adults, new onset diarrhea is usually caused by a viral infection of the intestines, which you can treat at home. Diarrhea is the body's way of getting rid of the infection. Here are some tips on how to keep ahead of the fluid losses.
- Drink more fluids, at least 8-10 glasses (8 oz) daily.
- For example: sports drinks, diluted fruit juices, soft drinks.
- Supplement this with saltine crackers or soups to make certain that you are getting sufficient fluid and salt to meet your body's needs.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages (Reason: caffeine is mildly dehydrating).
- Maintaining some food intake during episodes of diarrhea is important.
- Ideal initial foods include boiled starches/cereals (e.g., potatoes, rice, noodles, wheat, oats) with a small amount of salt to taste.
- Other acceptable foods include: bananas, yogurt, crackers, soup.
- As your stools return to normal consistency, resume a normal diet.
- Diarrhea Medication - Bismuth Subsalicylate (e.g., Kaopectate, PeptoBismol):
- Helps reduce diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping.
- Adult dosage: two tablets or two tablespoons by mouth every hour (if diarrhea continues) to a maximum of 8 doses in a 24-hour period.
- Do not use for more than 2 days
- Diarrhea Medication - Imodium AD:
- Helps reduce diarrhea.
- Adult dosage: 2 caplets or 4 teaspoonfuls (40 ml) initially by mouth. May take an additional caplet or 2 teaspoonfuls (10 ml) with each subsequent loose BM. Maximum of 4 caplets or 8 teaspoonfuls each day.
- Do not use if there is a fever greater than 100° F (37.8° C) or if there is blood or mucus in the stools.
- Do not use for more than 2 days.
- Read and follow the package instructions carefully.
- Expected Course: Viral diarrhea lasts 4-7 days. Always worse on days 1 and 2.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Signs of dehydration occur (e.g., no urine for more than 12 hours, very dry mouth, lightheaded, etc.)
- Diarrhea persists over 7 days
- You become worse
And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
First Aid - Shock
- Lie down with the feet elevated (Reason: counteract shock).
Note: In this illustration the individual in shock is laying down and his feet have been placed up on a stack of blankets.
Source: LMS Inc.
Copyright 2000-2009. Self Care Decisions, LLC. Used by Permission.
Author and Senior Reviewer: David A. Thompson, M.D. Clinical content review provided by Senior Reviewer and Healthpoint Medical Network.
Last Review Date: 6/1/2011
Last Revised: 8/13/2010
Content Set: Adult HouseCalls Symptom Checker
Version Year: 2012
Portions Copyright 2000-2012 Self Care Decisions LLC; Copyright LMS, Inc.