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.

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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


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Diarrhea Frequently Asked Questions

What can stop diarrhea fast?
While diarrhea typically improves on its own within a few days, there are some simple, at-home treatments that may bring relief. Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications, like Imodium and Pepto-Bismol, can help to firm up stools. Rice water (one cup rice boiled in two cups water) can also help keep your body hydrated. Probiotics, found in foods like yogurt, have proven beneficial – as well as the BRAT diet (banana, rice, applesauce, toast). If bacteria is to blame for diarrhea, antibiotics may be prescribed.

What causes diarrhea immediately after eating?
Figuring out the cause of diarrhea after eating (postprandial diarrhea) can be tricky, but a GI specialist can help. Your gastroenterologist will first determine whether your condition is acute (lasting less than two weeks) or chronic. If acute, the most common causes are food poisoning, infection, lactose intolerance, a reaction to antibiotics, or a parasite. If chronic, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Celiac disease, or an endocrine disorder could be to blame.

What is the strongest anti-diarrheal medicine?
For patients suffering from Crohn’s disease or other conditions with persistent diarrhea, a GI doctor may prescribe one of the following: Loperamide, Diphenoxylate, or Cholestyramine. Pepto-Bismol is also an extremely effective over-the-counter option.

How do I stop liquid diarrhea?
Most bouts of diarrhea last two to three days before running their course. In the meantime, your GI specialist will likely recommend trying over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications and staying hydrated. It is also a good idea to avoid caffeine and alcohol, as well as dairy products, high-fiber and high-fat foods. Instead, opt for low-fiber, bland foods that are easy to digest, like toast, crackers, eggs, chicken and rice.

What drinks help diarrhea?
To combat the dehydration that often accompanies diarrhea, drink plenty of clear liquids – such as water, clear fruit juices or sports drinks, clear broth and ginger ale. Avoid milk, caffeine and alcohol. Your GI specialist may recommend rehydration formulas, like Pedialyte, for children.

What are some common causes of diarrhea?
Diarrhea can have various possible causes, including the following: bacterial infection, food allergy/intolerance, reaction to medication, radiation therapy, consumption of food that upsets digestion, parasites, and food malabsorption.

How does diarrhea affect the body?
While diarrhea typically resolves on its own, serious, persistent cases can result in dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, organ damage and kidney failure. If your symptoms persist more than a few days or you notice signs of dehydration (dark urine, rapid heart rate, etc), contact your gastroenterologist or visit a nearby medical center immediately.

Who can get diarrhea?
Diarrhea is extremely common, affecting most Americans a few times a year. While anyone can get diarrhea, it can cause more serious medical concerns for young children, the elderly, and patients with certain pre-existing health conditions.

What can diarrhea patients eat?
To help relieve diarrhea symptoms, your Charleston GI specialist may recommend the BRAT diet (banana, rice, applesauce, toast) or the addition of probiotics. Clear liquids (water, broth, sports drinks, etc) can help keep you hydrated. It is best to avoid caffeine, alcohol, milk and other dairy products.

How can diarrhea cause dehydration?
Dehydration is the biggest risk associated with diarrhea because your body is losing large amounts of water. Be sure to stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water and clear liquids (water, broth, sports drinks, etc). If you experience any signs of dehydration, contact your GI doctor or visit a nearby medical center.

How does diarrhea cause metabolic acidosis?
Metabolic acidosis occurs when there is too much acid in the body’s fluids. In cases of severe diarrhea, the body loses too much sodium bicarbonate, causing hyperchloremic acidosis. To learn more about the medical services available, contact Charleston GI.

Will my diarrhea go away on its own?
Most likely, yes. In many cases, diarrhea is caused by a virus or bacteria and must simply run its course. If your symptoms persist longer than two or three days, contact your gastroenterologist.

What is the BRAT diet for diarrhea relief?
The BRAT diet includes bananas, rice, applesauce and toast – and is often effective in helping to firm stool and remedy unpleasant diarrhea symptoms.