Diarrhea – Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention

Diarrhea causes and Prevention

Diarrhea is characterized by irregular, watery, or more frequent bowel motions. It could be present by itself or in combination with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach discomfort, or weight loss.

The good news is that diarrhea typically only lasts a few days. However, diarrhea that persists for more than a few days or weeks typically points to another issue, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or a more serious condition, such as a persistent infection, celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

The typical signs and symptoms of Diarrhea include loose and watery stools, abdominal cramps, and dehydration.

Adults must visit a physician if signs and symptoms last longer than two days.

If you are an adult, and you have the following symptoms:

  • Dehydration
  • Severe abdominal or rectal pain
  • Red or black colored stool
  • Fever above 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees)

You should see a specialist doctor immediately.

With a fever, diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration, especially in young children.

Call your doctor if your child’s diarrhea does not improve within 24 hours of onset – and is also associated with the following symptoms:

  • Fever above 39°C
  • Crying without tears
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Drowsiness, unresponsiveness or irritability, dimpled appearance of the abdomen, eyes, or cheeks.

Diarrhea Causes and Prevention

Causes of Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be caused by a variety of diseases and conditions, including:


Norwalk virus (also known as norovirus), enteric adenoviruses, astrovirus, cytomegalovirus, and viral hepatitis are all viruses that can cause diarrhea. Rotavirus is a common cause of acute diarrhea in children. The virus responsible for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has also been linked to gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Parasites and bacteria

Diarrhea is caused by exposure to pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli or parasites through contaminated food or water. When visiting developing countries, diarrhea caused by bacteria and parasites is commonly referred to as traveler’s diarrhea. Clostridioides difficile (also known as C. diff) is another type of bacterium that can cause diarrhea after taking antibiotics or while hospitalized


Many medications, including antibiotics, can result in diarrhea. Antibiotics treat infections by killing harmful bacteria, but they also kill beneficial bacteria. This disrupts the natural balance of bacteria in your intestines, resulting in diarrhea or a secondary infection like C. diff. Anti-cancer medications and magnesium-containing antacids are also known to cause diarrhea.

Lactose sensitivity

Lactose is a type of sugar that is found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose-intolerant individuals experience diarrhea after consuming dairy products. Lactose intolerance can worsen with age because levels of the enzyme that aids in lactose digestion decline with age.


Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruits and honey. Certain beverages may contain it as a sweetener. People who have problems digesting fructose can get diarrhea.

Artificial sweeteners such as mannitol, erythritol, and sorbitol can also cause diarrhea in otherwise healthy people. People who eat chewing gum and other sugar-free products can develop diarrhea.

Prevention (Prevention of infectious diarrhea)

Washing hands to prevent the spread of infection prevents contagious diarrhea.  To ensure proper hand washing:

Wash your hands: before and after preparing food; after handling raw meat; after using the toilet, after changing nappies; after sneezing or coughing, and blowing your nose.

Lather the soap for 30 seconds. After applying soap to your hands, rub your hands for at least 20 seconds. That’s how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

If hand washing is not possible, use hand sanitizer. If you can’t get to the sink, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Apply a hand sanitizer such as hand lotion and cover the front and back of your hands.

Use products with an alcohol content of 60% or more.

The vaccine is one of two licensed vaccines that can protect children against rotavirus, the most common of diarrhea.

The leading cause of viral diarrhea in children is rotavirus. Enquire with your doctor about your child’s vaccinations.

Traveler’s diarrhea prevention People who travel to countries with poor sanitation and contaminated food are more likely to get diarrhea.

To lower the risk

Take care of what you eat. Consume warm, well-prepared food. Unless you can peel them yourself, avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables. Avoid raw or undercooked meat and dairy products as well. Take care of what you drink. Drink bottled water, soda, beer, or wine in their original containers. Avoid using tap water or ice cubes. You can also brush your teeth with bottled water. When showering, keep your mouth closed.

Coffee and tea, which are made with hot water, are probably safe. Keep in mind that alcohol and caffeine can aggravate diarrhea.

Inquire with your doctor about antibiotics. If you’re going to a developing country for an extended period of time, consult your doctor about antibiotics, especially if you have a weakened immune system.

Check for travel advisories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a website for travelers’ health that includes disease warnings for various countries. If you plan to travel outside of your country of origin, look for warnings and risk-reduction tips there.

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