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Diarrhea: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Diarrhea is a common gastrointestinal problem that means your stool is loose and watery. You may go to the bathroom three times daily. Diarrhea could result from infection, lactose, or food intolerance, and could result secondary to medications. This article discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatments of diarrhea.

Key facts:

  • Diarrhea is the increased bowel movement with soft and loose stool.
  • Diarrhea is generally classified into acute and chronic diarrhea.
  • Acute diarrhea is commonly caused by infections such as viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections.
  • Diarrhea may result from certain medications that could alter the gut’s normal flora.
  • Chronic diarrhea commonly results secondary to other diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, hyperthyroidism, and Cohn’s diseases.
  • The most common symptoms of diarrhea include frequent bowel movements, abdominal pain, cramps, and dehydration.
  • Treatment of diarrhea involves antibiotics in case of diarrhea caused by bacterial infection, and fluid replacement to avoid dehydration due to excessive fluid loss.

Classification of diarrhea | Causes of diarrhea | Symptoms of diarrhea | Treatments | FAQs

Classification of diarrhea

Diarrhea is classified based on the duration of symptoms into acute and chronic diarrhea. Consequently, causes and treatments differ according to the specific type.

Acute or persistent diarrhea

  • Symptoms appear in rapid onset
  • It is short-lived and relived within two days

Chronic diarrhea.

  • Chronic diarrhea means you have three or more loose stools daily.
  • It last for about four to six weeks
  • Chronic diarrhea is commonly due to other chronic diseases.

What are the main causes of diarrhea?

Causes of acute diarrhea

  • Infection

    Acute diarrhea may be due to one of the following infections (Ref).

    Viral infection:

    Many viral infections could lead to acute diarrhea. This includes the following

    • Rotavirus: Diarrhea in infants and children is commonly due to rotavirus.

    • COVID-19: diarrhea could be due to COVID-19 infection.

    Bacterial infection:

    Diarrhea may be due to bacterial infection found in contaminated food and water

    Bacteria that could lead to diarrhea include the following:

    Parasitic infection: Also, acute diarrhea may be due to parasitic infection including:


    Diarrhea may be due to side effects of certain medications. For example:

    • Antibiotics
    • Antacid containing magnesium
    • Metformin
    • Colchicine
    • lithium

    Causes of chronic diarrhea

    • Infections:
      • Chronic diarrhea may be due to certain types of bacterial and parasitic infections.
      • Some infections lead to chronic digestive problems such as chronic diarrhea.
    • lactose intolerance:
      • It is a condition that may lead to diarrhea.
      • It means diarrhea after eating foods or drinking a liquid containing milk or milk products.
      • Lactose intolerance-induced diarrhea starts o.5- 2 hours after eating or drinking foods containing lactose.
    • Certain diseases: diseases may be due to chronic diarrhea. For examples:
      • Irritable Bowel Syndrom
      • Colon diseases
      • Ulcerative Colitis
      • Cohn’s diseases
      • Hyperthyroidism
    • Medications:
      • Chronic diarrhea may be due to chronic use of certain medications
      • Medications that affect the gut’s normal flora can increase the risk of bacterial infection. Therefore, you get a chronic infection.
      Examples of medications that induce diarrhea:
      • Chemotherapy medicines
      • Proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole
      • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

    Symptoms of diarrhea

    When you have diarrhea you may suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:

    • Frequent bowel movements:
      • You feel an urgent need to use the bathroom
      • Loss of control of bowel movements
      • You may need to go to the bathroom 2-3 or more times daily.
      • Your stool is watery and loose.
    • Cramping
    • Abdominal pain
    • In case of diarrhea caused by infection, You may have the following symptoms
      • Fever and chills
      • Blood in stools
      • Vomiting
    • Dehydration: Dehydration occurs due to excessive loss of fluids. When you get dehydrated, you will suffer from the following symptoms:
      • Feeling thirst
      • Dry mouth
      • Urine with dark color
      • Decrease urine volume and decrease urination
      • Sunken eyes
      • Dizziness
    • Poor weight gain and sometimes weight loss
    • Loss of appetite

    Treatment of diarrhea

    Treatment of diarrhea varies according to the cause and the symptoms that appeared.

    • Replacement of fluid loss:
      • Dehydration that results from water loss should be treated with water and electrolyte replacement.
      • It is commonly known as rehydration therapy
      • You have to increase your water intake and drink fruit juices, salty broths, and sports drinks.
      • children should take a rehydration solution in order to replace water loss and avoid dehydration.
    • Medication: Over-the-counter drugs can be used in order to relieve symptoms of diarrhea among adult patients. However, they should not be used with infants or children.

    Medications used for the treatment of diarrhea are the following:

    • Loperamide (Imodium)
    • Bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate)
    • Antibiotic and anti-parasitic
      • In case of diarrhea due to bacterial or parasitic infection. antibiotic and anti-parasitic are recommended.
      • For diarrhea caused by viral infection, antibiotics and antiparasitic will not help.
    • For chronic diarrhea:
      • Medication can target the bacterial or parasitic infection that caused diarrhea.
      • Diarrhea that occurred due to other diseases. Medication for the treatment of these diseases could stop diarrhea.
      • Rehydration therapy in order to manage the dehydration resulting from diarrhea.
      • Also, a fiber supplement is highly recommended for patients with chronic diarrhea.
    • When symptoms last for more than two days, you have to visit your doctor.


    1. Is cheese good for diarrhea?

    Milk and other dairy products are not recommended when you have diarrhea.

    In some cases, diarrhea may result from lactose intolerance, hence any lactose-containing dairy products could worsen your condition.

    Yogurt is an exception to dairy products. You can eat yogurt when you have diarrhea. The probiotics contained in yogurt could help replace the gut flora and could shorten the duration of diarrhea and improve your symptoms.

    2. Are eggs good for diarrhea?

    Eating eggs is OK for diarrhea.

    However, you have to avoid using fats, and butter during cooking eggs. Fats should be avoided during diarrhea.

    3. Do banana help with diarrhea?

    Yes, eating banana help with diarrhea.

    Banana is rich in pectin, fiber, and potassium.

    Pectin helps to absorb excess water in your intestine. This helps to make your stool hard and decrease the duration of diarrhea (Ref).

    Fiber increases the bulk of the stool and thus improves stool consistency

    Potassium has a water retention effect that could protect against dehydration.

    4. Can I drink coffee with diarrhea?

    No, you cant drink coffee when you have dairrhea.

    Coffee and other caffeinated beverages have a laxative effect that could worsen diarrhea.

    Caffeine has a stimulant effect that could increase your bowel movements.

    5. Can I drink milk when I have diarrhea?

    No, it is better to avoid drinking milk with diarrhea.

    Milk, dairy products, and other fat-rich diets should be with diarrhea.

    For those who have lactose intolerance, drinking milk could worsen diarrhea.

    6. Can I drink soda with diarrhea?

    No, you should stop drinking soda when you have diarrhea.

    Drinking soda increases your bowel movements due to caffeine, sugar, and other artificial sweeteners that have a laxative effect.