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Abdominal Problems

Diarrhea

Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Diarrhea occurs when the intestines push stools through before the water in the stools can be reabsorbed by the body. This causes bowel movements to occur more frequently and stools to become watery and loose. A person with diarrhea may also have abdominal cramps and nausea.

Viral stomach flu (gastroenteritis) or food poisoning often causes diarrhea. Many medications, especially antibiotics, can cause diarrhea; so can laxatives, if they are overused. Sorbitol (a sugar substitute) and olestra (a fat substitute used in some processed foods) may cause diarrhea. For some people, emotional stress, anxiety, or food intolerance

may bring on this problem. Irritable bowel syndrome (See Irritable Bowel Syndrome) may also cause diarrhea.

Drinking untreated water that contains parasites, viruses, or bacteria is another cause of diarrhea. Symptoms usually develop 1 to 4 weeks after you drink the contaminated water.

Home Treatment

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To treat diarrhea in infants and children under age 4, Diarrhea and Vomiting.

  • Don't eat any food for several hours or until you are feeling better. Take frequent, small sips of water or a rehydration drink.

  • Avoid antidiarrheal drugs for the first 24 hours. After that, use them only if there are no other signs of illness, such as fever, and if cramping or discomfort continues. See antidiarrheal preparations on See Antidiarrheals.

  • After the first 24 hours (or sooner, depending on how you feel), begin eating mild foods, such as rice, dry toast or crackers, bananas, and applesauce. Avoid spicy foods, other fruits, alcohol, and drinks that contain caffeine until 48 hours after all symptoms have disappeared. Avoid dairy products for 3 days after symptoms disappear.

  • Take care to avoid dehydration. See Dehydration.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If you develop signs of dehydration (See Dehydration).

  • If you develop severe diarrhea (large, loose bowel movements every 1 to 2 hours).

  • If diarrhea lasts longer than 2 weeks.

  • If stools are bloody or black.

  • If abdominal pain increases or localizes, especially to the lower right or lower left part of the abdomen.

  • If your symptoms become more severe or frequent.

  • If diarrhea occurs after drinking untreated water.

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