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Person frequenting the restroom

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is when you have frequent and watery bowel movements.

  • You have diarrhea when food and liquid go through your body too quickly.

Usually, when you have diarrhea it is because you have germs in your body that are making you sick.

You can get diarrhea if you have the stomach flu.

Stomach flu is contagious.

  • Contagious means you can get sick from being with someone else who is sick.

People can spread illness by coughing or sneezing.

Some germs can be passed by touching someone who is sick or sharing food or drink with someone who is sick.

You can also get diarrhea from food poisoning.

Food poisoning is when you eat or drink something that is infected with germs.

Food can become infected if:

  • It is not cooked or washed well
  • It has been sitting at room temperature for too long

Some people can get diarrhea from certain foods or medicine.

People’s bodies can react differently to the same things.

  • You could get diarrhea if you eat foods or take medicines that you are allergic to.

Antibiotics, a type of medication, can also give you diarrhea.

You probably have diarrhea if:

  • You have loose, watery bowel movements
  • You have to rush to the bathroom for a bowel movement more than 3 or 4 times a day

If you have diarrhea, you may also:

  • Feel cramps or pain in your stomach
  • Feel bloated or like your stomach is swollen
  • Feel nauseous (like you need to throw up) or actually throw up
  • Feel warm (have a fever)

When you have diarrhea, your body can lose a lot of water.

Your body needs water to work properly.

When you do not have enough water in your body you can become dehydrated.

You may be dehydrated if you:

  • Feel dizzy or like you are going to faint
  • Have a dry or sticky feeling mouth
  • Have dry skin
  • Have dark colored urine

Tell someone immediately if you:

  • Have diarrhea for longer than 3 days
  • Feel a lot of pain in your stomach or bottom
  • Feel very warm
  • Have bloody or black bowel movements
  • Have signs of dehydration (previous slide)

If you are feeling sick, call the doctor.

Tell the doctor about:

  • What you are feeling in your body (your symptoms)
  • Medications you are taking
  • Food you ate
  • Where you bought your food
  • If you’ve been near anyone else with diarrhea

Your doctor will tell you what to do to get better.

Diarrhea usually goes away on its own.

The doctor may tell you to take medicine.

  • Let your doctor know about any other medications you are taking.

Make sure you understand all of the doctor’s instructions before you leave the doctor’s office.

If you have diarrhea, you can help yourself feel better.

To prevent dehydration, you should replace the water your body is losing.

  • Take small sips of water often.
  • Eat soup or broth.
  • You could even suck on some ice.

Eat soft, simple food such as:

  • Bananas, rice, or toast

There are other things you can do to help yourself feel better.

If you have diarrhea, try to avoid:

  • Caffeine (like coffee and soda)
  • Milk products (like milk, yogurt, and ice cream)
  • Greasy food (like hamburgers and french fries)
  • Very sweet food (like candy)

There are many things you can do to prevent getting diarrhea.

Wash your hands often, especially:

  • Before and after touching food
  • Before eating
  • After using the toilet
  • When around children

Don’t share your hand towels with others.

Do not eat food that has been out at room temperature for a long time.

You can learn more on the DDS Safety Net.

Germs that Cause Diarrhea

Preventing Infections

Food Safety

You can also learn more from your doctor or on the internet:

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

CDC – Traveler’s diarrhea

Medline Plus – Diarrhea

PDF icon HPDiarrhea.pdf898.62 KB
Last updated on Thu, 06/17/2010 - 14:53