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Sudden onset (acute) diarrhea is a common medical complaint. The condition is usually not harmful, resolving on its own in a day or two.
You should, however, seek medical attention right away if you experience the following:
Dignity Health North State provides emergency care for unexpected medical concerns, including troubling symptoms accompanying diarrhea, in Northern California. Use our InQuicker tool to choose your estimated arrival time and wait at home until then.
The primary symptom of diarrhea is loose, watery stool. Additional symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, cramping, fever, vomiting, and the urgent need to have a bowel movement.
Dehydration may occur as a result of diarrhea. Dark urine, long periods between urination, thirst, fatigue, lightheadedness, and dizziness are common signs of dehydration.
In children and infants, dehydration symptoms may appear as dry mouth and tongue, no tears with crying, no wet diapers for three hours, and sunken eyes, cheeks, or soft spots. Dehydration may also result in listlessness or extreme irritability.
You can test for dehydration by gently pinching your skin. If you are dehydrated, your skin won’t flatten out as it normally would.
The main cause of diarrhea is a viral infection typically referred to as the stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis). The most common virus affecting children is rotavirus; for adults it’s norovirus. These germs can enter your body through contaminated food or water, or through contact with an infected person.
Bacterial and parasitic infections can also cause diarrhea.
Treatment of diarrhea is dependent on its cause. Your doctor may prescribe anti-infective medicines (antibiotics, anti-bacterials) to treat a bacterial or parasitic infection.
Because these medications don’t work on viruses, the focus of treatment for viral diarrhea is prevention of dehydration. Your Dignity Health North State doctor will advise you to drink plenty of fluids and take in lots of electrolytes (salts and sugars) to replace nutrients lost through waste.
Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines are also available for adults — they aren’t recommended for children, however. Don’t use these drugs for bacterial or parasitic infections, as they can prolong or worsen diarrhea.
Eat bland foods, such as plain toast, crackers, and rice until your symptoms go away. Stay away from greasy, spicy, high-fiber foods and caffeine.
The best methods of preventing diarrhea are careful handwashing and sanitary food preparation.
Doctors at Dignity Health North State provide compassionate care to treat a wide range of abdominal disorders. Learn more about emergency services in our Northern California communities.
Dignity Health North State delivers unparalleled care for many conditions, including severe symptoms of diarrhea, in Mt. Shasta, Red Bluff, and Redding, CA.