Discusses diarrhea in older children and adults. Covers causes and symptoms such as abdominal pain and black or bloody stools. Offers home treatment tips. Discusses signs of dehydration. Includes interactive tool to help you decide when to call a doctor.
Diarrhea, Age 12 and Older
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 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.
Diarrhea is often caused by stomach flu (gastroenteritis) or
food poisoning. Diarrhea is your body's way of quickly
clearing viruses, bacteria, or toxins from the digestive tract. Since most
cases of diarrhea are viral, they will clear up in a few days with good home
E. coli is a common bacteria that causes diarrhea.
E. coli infection is related to improper food
untreated water or unpasteurized dairy products can
cause viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections, such as
Giardia lamblia. Giardia lamblia parasite can cause diarrhea that develops 1 to 4 weeks later.
These infections can also occur when you use untreated water to brush your
teeth, wash your dishes or vegetables, or make ice for drinks.
prescription and nonprescription
medicines can cause diarrhea.
Antibiotics may cause mild diarrhea that
usually clears up without treatment. A more serious type of diarrhea caused by
the bacteria Clostridium difficile (sometimes called
C-diff) may occur while taking an antibiotic or shortly after finishing the
Laxatives, such as Correctol, Dulcolax, Ex-Lax, or
Feen-a-Mint, may cause diarrhea.
Using too much of products that contain sorbitol
(such as chewing gum) or fructose can cause diarrhea.
Diarrhea may develop after stomach, bowel, or gallbladder
surgery, or after bariatric surgery for
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
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.
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 a medicine that affects the blood's ability to clot, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), or clopidogrel (Plavix), 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.
An illness plan for people with diabetes usually covers things like:
How often to test blood sugar and what the target
Whether and how to adjust the dose and timing of insulin
or other diabetes medicines.
What to do if you have trouble keeping
food or fluids down.
When to call your doctor.
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
It is easy for your diabetes to become out of control when
you are sick. Because of an illness:
Your blood sugar may be too high or too
You may not be able take your diabetes medicine (if you are
vomiting or having trouble keeping food or fluids down).
not know how to adjust the timing or dose of your diabetes
You may not be eating enough or drinking enough
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause
diarrhea. A few examples are:
pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and lansoprazole (Prevacid).
Medicines used to treat cancer (chemotherapy).
Severe dehydration means:
Your mouth and eyes may be extremely
You may pass little or no urine for 12 or more
You may not feel alert or be able to think
You may be too weak or dizzy to stand.
Moderate dehydration means:
You may be a lot more thirsty than
Your mouth and eyes may be drier than usual.
pass little or no urine for 8 or more hours.
You may feel dizzy
when you stand or sit up.
Mild dehydration means:
You may be more thirsty than usual.
You may pass less urine than usual.
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
You may feel tired and edgy (mild dehydration), or
you may feel weak, not alert, and not able to think clearly (severe
You may pass less urine than usual (mild
dehydration), or you may not be passing urine at all (severe
Severe diarrhea means having
more than 10 loose, watery stools in a single day (24 hours).
Moderate diarrhea means having more than a few but not more
than 10 diarrhea stools in a day.
Mild diarrhea means having a few diarrhea stools in a day.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Symptoms of serious illness may
A severe headache.
Mental changes, such as feeling confused or much less
Extreme fatigue (to the point where it's hard for you to
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
104°F (40°C) and
100.4°F (38°C) to
100.3°F (37.9°C) and
Ear or rectal temperature
105°F (40.6°C) and
101.4°F (38.6°C) to
101.3°F (38.5°C) and
Armpit (axillary) temperature
High: 103°F (39.5°C) and higher
99.4°F (37.4°C) to
Mild: 99.3°F (37.3°C) and lower
If you're not sure if a fever is high, moderate, or mild,
think about these issues:
With a high fever:
You feel very hot.
It is likely one of
the highest fevers you've ever had. High fevers are not that common, especially
With a moderate fever:
You feel warm or hot.
You know you have
With a mild fever:
You may feel a little warm.
you might have a fever, but you're not sure.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Try home treatment to relieve the
Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any
concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect).
You may need care sooner.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Your age. Babies and older
adults tend to get sicker quicker.
Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
Medicines you take. Certain
medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
Recent health events, such as surgery
or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
use, sexual history, and travel.
Diarrhea, Age 11 and Younger
Call 911 Now
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
Home treatment can help you treat
your diarrhea and avoid other related problems, such as
Take frequent, small sips of water or a
rehydration drink and small bites of salty crackers.
Try to increase your fluid intake to at least
1 qt (1 L) per hour for 1 to 2
hours, or longer if you keep having large amounts of diarrhea. Note: If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
Begin eating mild foods the next day or sooner,
depending on how you feel.
Avoid spicy foods, fruits, alcohol, and
caffeine until 48 hours after all symptoms have disappeared.
chewing gum that contains sorbitol.
milk for 3 days after symptoms disappear.
You can eat cheese or yogurt with probiotics.
Nonprescription medicines for diarrhea
If you are
pregnant, talk with your doctor before taking any medicines for
Nonprescription medicines may be helpful in treating your
diarrhea. Follow these tips when taking a nonprescription medicine for
Use nonprescription antidiarrheal medicine if
you have diarrhea for longer than 6 hours. Do not use nonprescription
antidiarrheal medicines if you have bloody diarrhea, a high fever, or other
signs of serious illness.
Read and follow
all label directions on the nonprescription medicine bottle or box. Be sure to
take the recommended dose.
Long-term use of nonprescription
antidiarrheal medicine is not recommended. To avoid constipation, stop taking
antidiarrheal medicines as soon as stools thicken.
If your child or
flu, do not treat the symptoms with over-the-counter
medicines that contain bismuth subsalicylate (such as Pepto-Bismol and
Kaopectate). Subsalicylate has been linked to
Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness. If your
child has taken this kind of medicine and he or she has changes in behavior
with nausea and vomiting, call your doctor. These symptoms could be an early
sign of Reye syndrome.
There are several types of antidiarrheal medicines: those
that absorb water and thicken the stool, and those that slow intestinal
Thickening mixtures (such as psyllium) absorb water. This helps bulk up the stool and make it more firm.
Antispasmodic antidiarrheals, such as Imodium A-D and Pepto
Diarrhea Control, slow intestinal spasms. Some products contain both thickening
and antispasmodic ingredients.
Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus, are available in either pills or powder. This
bacteria occurs naturally in the intestine and may help with digestion. When
diarrhea is present, the number of these bacteria is reduced.
Learn how to clean up diarrhea safely. Protect your hands with gloves while cleaning up. Wash your hands after you are done cleaning up.
Your symptoms become
more severe or more frequent.
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
The U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) recommends the following steps to prevent food poisoning:
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.