Diarrhea refers to loose, watery stools that occur more frequently than usual. The stools sometimes cause cramping and pain. When diarrhea occurs, it's usually because water in the intestine is not absorbed back into the body or because a lodged stool leads to a backup of liquid around or behind it.
Diarrhea is a symptom that can accompany a variety of health conditions, and all kinds of factors can lead to getting diarrhea. It frequently is related to something you ate or drank. Bacterial infections can cause diarrhea. So can travel, certain medications and laxatives. Also, internal damage, in the small intestine or bowel, for instance, can cause more frequent diarrhea.
Most bouts of diarrhea can be monitored and treated with gentle at-home remedies. It’s good to eat smaller meals of foods and liquids that are soothing rather than irritating. For example, avoid spicy foods and raw vegetables in favor of things like applesauce, rice, yogurt and toast. It’s also important to take in plenty of fluids and electrolytes because diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Also avoid alcohol and tobacco use, and don’t eat a lot of sweets.
You can avoid irritation to the anus during diarrhea by washing with mild soap and water after each bowel movement or using baby wipes. You can apply petroleum jelly or an ointment containing vitamins A, D and E for further relief. A warm bath can also help.
When to See a Doctor
If diarrhea persists with no improvement for more than two days, or if blood is present in the stools, see a health care provider. Also see a doctor if diarrhea is accompanied by fever, abdominal swelling, abnormal weight loss or infrequent urination. A bout of constipation that's followed by diarrhea could indicate that an impacted stool is blocking the flow of feces from the body, requiring medical attention.
SOURCES: U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; American Cancer Society; Pancreatic Cancer Action Network