Diarrhea: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Diarrhea is an uncomfortable and inconvenient part of life. Most people will experience diarrhea in their lives, and in most cases, there is no reason to worry. If diarrhea becomes chronic or lasts longer than a couple of days, it could be a sign of a more serious health problem. The sooner the problem is diagnosed, the sooner a patient can begin treatment and get back on the road to recovery.

Diarrhea Causes

There are many things that can cause diarrhea. Some of them are common things, like a change in diet, while others are more serious, like colon cancer. It is important to know the cause of diarrhea, so a proper treatment can be found. Some of the most common causes of diarrhea include:

  • Infections
  • Bacteria
  • Parasites
  • Medications
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Fructose
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Surgery
  • Digestive problems
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Celiac disease
  • Colon cancer

Diarrhea Symptoms

In most cases, diarrhea is a symptom itself. Patients may experience other symptoms aside from diarrhea that are associated with the cause of it. Some people experience some of these symptoms, and others only experience a few of them. The cause of diarrhea often influences its severity as well as the severity of the other symptoms associated with it. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of diarrhea include:

  • Loose stool
  • Watery stool
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fever
  • Bloody stool
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Urgent need for bowel movement

Diarrhea Diagnosis

Diarrhea itself is easy to diagnose and can usually be done by listening to the patient explain the symptoms or with a stool sample. However, it can be difficult for doctors to diagnose the cause of diarrhea. Doctors may perform a variety of different tests and exams to help them determine the cause of diarrhea. Some of those tests include:

  • Blood test
  • Stool test
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Endoscopy
  • Physical exam

Diarrhea Treatment

Treatment can be focused on diarrhea itself as well as the cause of the problem. Once the cause has been diagnosed, treatments can be more focused and are likely to be more effective. If there is no known cause, diarrhea itself becomes the focus. Some of the most common treatments used for patients with diarrhea include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Fluid replacement
  • Medication adjustments
  • Dietary changes
  • Anti-diarrheal medications

Diarrhea Prognosis

The prognosis for most people with diarrhea is good. If there is no underlying cause or the cause is not serious, diarrhea usually clears up on its own within a few days. In cases where there is a serious cause, a fast diagnosis can greatly improve the prognosis. The cause can be treated, and people who receive treatment for chronic digestive issues can usually live normal lives. In cases of more serious illnesses, such as colon cancer, the prognosis is not as good. With the proper treatment, many patients can beat the cancer and live normal lives. No matter what the cause, the faster the diagnosis and treatment, the better the prognosis.


American Gastroenterological Association.