Diarrhea is loose or watery stool, which may occur multiple times a day. Diarrhea that starts suddenly (acute) is a common harmless condition. Acute diarrhea typically only lasts a day or two and goes away without treatment.
However, certain circumstances can signal a more serious problem, including:
- Black, tarry stools
- Diarrhea lasting more than two days
- Diarrhea with high fever
- Pus or blood in the stool
- Severe abdominal pain
- Signs of dehydration
Our expert team of emergency care doctors, nurses, and technicians at Dignity Health provide comprehensive and efficient care for diarrhea in the Bay Area. We are here whenever you need us, day or night. If you need to go to the ER, visit one of our Bay Area emergency rooms.
Causes of Diarrhea
The main cause of acute diarrhea is viral gastroenteritis — an acute viral infection commonly known as stomach flu. Contaminated food or water is the main cause of gastroenteritis. Norovirus is the most common virus affecting adults. In children, rotavirus is most common. Other possible causes of diarrhea include parasitic and bacterial infections.
Signs and symptoms of diarrhea include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loose, watery stools
- Urgent need to have a bowel movement
Diarrhea can lead to dehydration due to loss of fluids in the stool. Signs of dehydration include:
- Dark urine
- Urinating less than normal
In children and infants look for symptoms such as:
- Dry mouth and tongue
- Three hours or more between wet diapers
- Listlessness (having little or no interest in things)
- No tears with crying
- Sunken eyes, cheeks or soft spots
To test for dehydration, gently pinch the skin. If the skin doesn’t flatten out normally, the person is dehydrated.
Treatment & Prevention of Diarrhea at Dignity Health
Diarrhea treatment depends on the underlying cause. For bacterial and parasitic infections, your doctor will prescribe anti-infective medicines, such as antibiotics.
Preventing dehydration is the main focus of viral diarrhea treatment. This means replacing electrolytes and drinking plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicines can successfully treat viral diarrhea in adults. However, these medicines should not be used for bacterial diarrhea, parasitic diarrhea, or diarrhea in children.
Because spicy, greasy, and high-fiber foods can worsen your symptoms, eat bland foods, such as rice and crackers, until your symptoms subside.
The two best methods for preventing diarrhea are sanitary food preparation and thorough handwashing.
Find a Doctor if you would like to learn more about treating diarrhea in the Bay Area.
Dignity Health offers emergency care for a wide range of conditions, including diarrhea, in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City,