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Diarrhea

Frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements. Common causes include gastrointestinal infections, irritable bowel syndrome, medicines, and malabsorption.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

About Diarrhea

It is usually caused by viruses, the most common of which are the highly contagious norovirus and rotavirus. Infectious diarrhea can also come from bacteria such as Salmonella or Campylobacter.

In normal cases of diarrhea, you can usually just replace the fluids you lose and wait until the infection goes away. But more severe or longer lasting diarrhea needs to be treated because it can lead to the loss of dangerously high levels of fluid and salt, especially in young children and older people.

Symptoms

The infection often starts suddenly with projectile vomiting or severe diarrhea. It is considered to be diarrhea if you have more than three very loose or liquid bowel movements within 24 hours. Diarrhea is often accompanied by stomach ache, cramps and bloating. As well as nausea, diarrhea can also be associated with fever, headache and achy joints.

Dizziness and problems with circulation could be signs that your body has lost too much liquid and salts (electrolytes). If that happens, immediate medical attention is needed... Read more about Diarrhea

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Probiotics for persistent diarrhoea in children

Persistent diarrhoea is defined as a diarrhoeal episode that starts acutely but then lasts for 14 days or more, and it is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in children under five years old in developing countries throughout the world. The cause of persistent diarrhoea is not completely understood but is likely to be complex; this in turn makes management of the condition difficult. Probiotics are bacteria and yeasts that are similar to the normal bacteria found in a healthy gut. These so called friendly bacteria have been used in several studies to treat acute infectious diarrhoea with encouraging results. This review found four trials involving children with persistent diarrhoea. Two studies with a combined total of 324, showed that probiotics shorten the duration of diarrhoea and reduce the stool frequency on day‐5. One study (235 children) suggested that probiotics reduce the hospital stay. Three out of four trials reported that no adverse events occurred. However, this review is limited by few trials with small number of participants, and therefore may not represent a reliable estimate of probiotics' effect.

Reduced osmolarity oral rehydration solution for treating dehydration caused by acute diarrhoea in children

Children with diarrhoea lose body water and sometimes become dehydrated. A solution of sugar and salt dissolved in water is widely used to treat dehydration caused by diarrhoea. This reviews shows that a solution of lower osmolarity than the current international standard means fewer children subsequently require an intravenous drip.

Antibiotic treatment reduces duration and severity of travellers' diarrhoea.

Using a pilot system we have categorised this review as: Current question ‐ update pending. (See "Published notes" section for an explanation).

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Summaries for consumers

Infectious diarrhea: Can probiotics help against diarrhea?

Probiotics can make diarrhea go away about one day faster. Generally speaking, probiotic products – which mostly contain certain lactic acid bacteria – are well tolerated.

Probiotics for persistent diarrhoea in children

Persistent diarrhoea is defined as a diarrhoeal episode that starts acutely but then lasts for 14 days or more, and it is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in children under five years old in developing countries throughout the world. The cause of persistent diarrhoea is not completely understood but is likely to be complex; this in turn makes management of the condition difficult. Probiotics are bacteria and yeasts that are similar to the normal bacteria found in a healthy gut. These so called friendly bacteria have been used in several studies to treat acute infectious diarrhoea with encouraging results. This review found four trials involving children with persistent diarrhoea. Two studies with a combined total of 324, showed that probiotics shorten the duration of diarrhoea and reduce the stool frequency on day‐5. One study (235 children) suggested that probiotics reduce the hospital stay. Three out of four trials reported that no adverse events occurred. However, this review is limited by few trials with small number of participants, and therefore may not represent a reliable estimate of probiotics' effect.

Reduced osmolarity oral rehydration solution for treating dehydration caused by acute diarrhoea in children

Children with diarrhoea lose body water and sometimes become dehydrated. A solution of sugar and salt dissolved in water is widely used to treat dehydration caused by diarrhoea. This reviews shows that a solution of lower osmolarity than the current international standard means fewer children subsequently require an intravenous drip.

See all (453)

More about Diarrhea

Photo of an adult

Also called: Diarrhoea, Diarrhoeal, Diarrheal

See Also: Malabsorption Syndromes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Gastroenteritis

Other terms to know:
Electrolytes, Norovirus, Salmonella

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