There are many causes of diarrhea, and while treatment can be very simple, special testing may be required if diarrhea is constant, ongoing, explosive or severe.


The most common cause of diarrhea is viral gastroenteritis, a mild viral infection known as the stomach flu. Food poisoning and traveler’s diarrhea are two other common causes of diarrhea, resulting from the consumption of contaminated food or water. Medications, especially antibiotics, laxatives containing magnesium, and chemotherapy for cancer treatment, can also cause diarrhea.

Risk Factors

Those with the following conditions have a higher risk for diarrhea:
  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Malabsorption syndromes (such as lactose intolerance)


  • Urgent need to use the bathroom, loss of bowel control
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Nausea
  • Infection-related fever/chills or bloody stools

Diagnostic Tests

Adults experiencing the following symptoms should see their health care provider for a physical exam:
  • Signs of dehydration
  • Diarrhea for more than 2 days
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • Fever of 102 degrees or higher
  • Stools containing blood or pus
  • Stools that are black and tarry


  • Stay hydrated, starting with sips of non-caffeinated beverages
  • Eat probiotic-rich food, such as yogurt with active/live cultures
  • Add rice, dry toast and bananas to your diet to reduce symptoms
  • Avoid over-the-counter antidiarrhea medications unless instructed by your doctor
  • Get plenty of rest