Diarrhea

  • Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Diarrhea and Digestive Distress Pictures Slideshow: Problem Foods to Avoid

Food poisoning

Food poisoning is a brief illness that is caused by toxins produced by bacteria. The toxins cause abdominal pain (cramps) and vomiting, and also cause the small intestine to secrete large amounts of water that leads to diarrhea. The symptoms of food poisoning usually last less than 24 hours. With some bacteria, the toxins are produced in the food before it is eaten, while with other bacteria, the toxins are produced in the intestine after the food is eaten.

Symptoms usually appear within several hours when food poisoning is caused by toxins that are formed in the food before it is eaten. It takes longer for symptoms to develop when the toxins are formed in the intestine (because it takes time for the bacteria to produce the toxins). Therefore, in the latter case, symptoms usually appear after 7-15 hours.

Staphylococcus aureus is an example of a bacterium that produces toxins in food before it is eaten. Typically, food contaminated with Staphylococcus (such as salad, meat or sandwiches with mayonnaise) is left un-refrigerated at room temperature overnight. The Staphylococcal bacteria multiply in the food and produce toxins. Clostridium perfringens is an example of a bacterium that multiplies in food (usually canned food), and produces toxins in the small intestine after the contaminated food is eaten.

Parasites

Parasitic infections are not common causes of diarrhea in the U. S. Infection with Giardia lamblia occurs among individuals who hike in the mountains or travel abroad and is transmitted by contaminated drinking water. Infection with Giardia usually is not associated with inflammation; there is no blood or pus in the stool and little fever. Infection with amoeba (amoebic dysentery) usually occurs during travel abroad to undeveloped countries and is associated with signs of inflammation--blood or pus in the stool and fever.

Cryptosporidium is a diarrhea-producing parasite that is spread by contaminated water because it can survive chlorination. Cyclospora is a diarrhea-producing parasite that has been associated with contaminated raspberries from Guatemala.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/29/2015
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