Diarrhea is an increase in the wateriness, volume, or frequency of bowel movements. Although uncomfortable, most diarrhea is not serious and will go away in a few days without treatment. See a health care provider, however, if the feces contain blood, if the diarrhea is particularly severe, or if the diarrhea lasts more than a few days.

Signs and Symptoms

Diarrhea is a symptom of another ailment. Symptoms you might experience with diarrhea include the following.

What Causes It?

Most diarrhea is caused by an infection (viral, bacterial, or parasitic) or intestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease. Another common cause is food poisoning. Eating local food and drinking local water during foreign travel can result in "traveler's diarrhea."

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Your health care provider will question you about your symptoms. Your provider will also check if you are dehydrated and may feel your abdomen to see if it is tender, listen to your abdomen with a stethoscope, and give you a rectal exam.

Treatment Options

Drug Therapies
In many cases, diarrhea will disappear on its own. However, there are various drugs to treat symptoms of diarrhea. Your health care provider may suggest the following drugs for your diarrhea:

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Work with your provider to find remedies that are right for you.

Do not use herbs to treat diarrhea without talking to your health care provider first. If your diarrhea is caused by certain types of infections, herbal treatments could make it worse. The most common herbal remedies for diarrhea are described below. They are best used as teas unless otherwise noted. Teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.

Swelling reducers: Infection fighters: Antidiarrheal herbs: Homeopathy
In a recent study of children with acute diarrhea, those who received an individualized homeopathic treatment for five days had a significantly shorter duration of diarrhea than children who received placebo. Some of the most effective homeopathic remedies are listed below. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual. Acupuncture
Although acupuncturists in China have reported success in treating childhood diarrhea, acupuncturists in the United States do not generally treat this condition in children. However, acupuncture may be used when conventional treatment has failed. In this case, acupuncturists would examine both the nutritional value and the "energetic" qualities of food that might be affecting digestion. Acupuncture is also combined with conventional medicine in treating diarrhea in adults.

Acupuncturists treat people with diarrhea based on an individualized assessment of the excesses and deficiencies of qi located in various meridians. In the case of diarrhea, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the spleen meridian. As a result, acupuncture treatments often focus on strengthening this meridian. Moxibustion (a technique in which the herb mugwort is burned over specific acupuncture points) is frequently used in the treatment of diarrhea because its effect is thought to reach deeper into the body than needling alone.

Following Up

If your diarrhea does not stop in three to five days, contact your health care provider.

Special Considerations

If you are pregnant, tell your doctor. Dehydration can cause you to go into labor early. Also, the spasms that diarrhea causes may cause you to have contractions. Do not take goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), barberry (Berberis vulgaris), or high doses of vitamin A if you are pregnant.

Diarrhea can be serious, even fatal, for infants and elderly people because of dehydration and the loss of electrolytes.


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