- Take the Tummy Trouble Quiz
- Boost Digestive Health
- Digestive Distress Slideshow: Problem Foods to Avoid
- Patient Comments: Diarrhea - Effective Treatments
- Patient Comments: Diarrhea - Causes
- Patient Comments: Diarrhea - Antibiotics
- Patient Comments: Diarrhea - Share Your Experience
- Patient Comments: Diarrhea - Food Poisoning
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
- Diarrhea facts
- What is diarrhea?
- What is the definition of diarrhea?
- What symptoms are associated with diarrhea?
- What are common causes of acute diarrhea?
- Traveler's diarrhea
- Viral gastroenteritis
- Bacterial enterocolitis
- Food poisoning
- What are common causes of chronic diarrhea?
- What kind of a doctor treats diarrhea?
- When should the doctor be called for diarrhea?
- How is the cause of diarrhea diagnosed?
- What home remedies help the symptoms of diarrhea?
- What medications are used to treat diarrhea?
- When should antibiotics be used for diarrhea?
- What are the complications of diarrhea?
- How can dehydration be prevented and treated?
- What about treatment of diarrhea in infants and young children?
- What about treating diarrhea in older children and adults?
Quick GuideDiarrhea and Digestive Distress: Problem Foods to Avoid
Viral gastroenteritis (viral infection of the stomach and the small intestine) is the most common cause of acute diarrhea worldwide.
Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis typically last only 48-72 hours and include:
Unlike bacterial enterocolitis (bacterial infection of the small intestine and colon), patients with viral gastroenteritis usually do not have blood or pus in their stools and have little if any fever.
Viral gastroenteritis can occur in a sporadic form (in a single individual) or in an epidemic form (among groups of individuals).
- Sporadic diarrhea probably is caused by several different viruses and is believed to be spread by person-to-person contact.
- The most common cause of epidemic diarrhea (for example, on cruise ships) is infection with a family of viruses known as caliciviruses of which the genus norovirus is the most common (for example, "Norwalk agent").
The caliciviruses are transmitted by food that is contaminated by sick food-handlers or by person-to-person contact.
Disease-causing bacteria usually invade the small intestines and colon and cause enterocolitis (inflammation of the small intestine and colon). Bacterial enterocolitis is characterized by signs of inflammation (blood or pus in the stool, fever, abdominal tenderness) and abdominal pain and diarrhea. Campylobacter jejuni is the most common bacterium that causes acute enterocolitis in the U.S. Other bacteria that cause enterocolitis include Shigella, Salmonella, and EPEC. These bacteria usually are acquired by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated foods such as vegetables, poultry, and dairy products.
Enterocolitis caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile is unusual because it often is caused by antibiotic treatment. Clostridium difficile is also the most common nosocomial infection (infection acquired while in the hospital) to cause diarrhea. Unfortunately, infection also is increasing among individuals who have neither taken antibiotics nor have been in the hospital.
E. coli O157:H7 is a strain of E. coli that produces a toxin that causes hemorrhagic enterocolitis (enterocolitis with bleeding). There was a famous outbreak of hemorrhagic enterocolitis in the U.S. traced to contaminated ground beef in hamburgers (hence it is also called hamburger colitis). A small percentage of patients infected with E. coli O157:H7, particularly children, can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a syndrome that can lead to kidney failure. Some evidence suggests that prolonged use of anti-diarrhea agents or use of antibiotics may increase the chance of developing HUS.