Authored by Revere Health

The Hidden Dangers of Diarrhea

September 7, 2016 | Gastroenterology

Dangers of Diarrhea

Diarrhea is one of those things you don’t ever think about – until it strikes. Most people endure an annual bout or two and get over it within three days. Diarrhea is one of the most common illnesses in all age groups and is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost days of work or school, reports the Cleveland Clinic. There are approximately 100 million cases of acute diarrhea per year in American adults. Common symptoms include:

  • An urgent feeling that you need to have a bowel movement
  • Watery stools
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating or cramping
  • Fever
  • Blood, mucus or undigested food in the stool
  • Weight loss

Severe cases that result in watery stools more than three times daily can cause dehydration if enough liquids are not consumed, which can be a dangerous condition if not treated. If you see signs of dehydration, such as dark urine, thirst, less frequent urination or accelerated heartbeat, it may be quite advanced and requires immediate replacement of the lost water and electrolytes. Children are especially prone to losing a large amount of fluid in a short time from diarrhea. Give them oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte, Ceralyte or Infalyte in large amounts provided there is no vomiting.

Common Causes of Diarrhea

Diarrhea is typically caused by a viral infection that we call the stomach or intestinal flu. Children are most often infected by the rotavirus, and adults contract norovirus infection most frequently. Diarrhea can also be triggered by:

  • Diseases of the intestines such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis
  • Food allergies
  • Bacterial infection, often from food poisoning
  • Parasitic infection from Giardia
  • Alcohol or laxative abuse
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Diabetes

Treating Diarrhea

Mild cases might not require anything other than time and staying comfortable. Over-the-counter medicines in liquid or tablet form such as Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate or Imodium can be helpful. Diarrhea is often accompanied by burning pain or soreness in the rectal region, which can be relieved by a warm bath followed by the application of a hemorrhoid cream or white petroleum jelly.

When to Seek Help From a Gastroenterologist

If your diarrhea persists for longer than two days, call your gastroenterologist. Seek help at once if you experience:

  • A fever above 101 F that lasts more than 24 hours
  • Blood in your diarrhea or black, tarry stools
  • Nausea or vomiting that prevents you from replacing lost liquids
  • Severe pain in your abdomen or rectum
  • Diarrhea after an overseas trip


Your doctor will perform a thorough physical exam and run tests to determine if your diarrhea is acute or chronic. A stool sample may be taken to look for white blood cells, parasites or bacteria, and blood tests will show electrolyte abnormalities. Your doctor will ask you about recent travel or animal exposure, sources of drinking water, recent food intake,or recent antibiotic treatment. Some causes of acute diarrhea are treatable with antibiotics.


If you have a history of profuse or chronic diarrheal episodes, your gastroenterologist might order one of the following tests or procedures:

  • Young casual woman is having stomach ache.Upper gastrointestinal X-ray series
  • Barium enema (lower GI series)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Colonoscopy with biopsies
  • Small intestinal endoscopy
  • • Capsule endoscopy
  • Hydrogen breath testing
  • Pancreatic function tests
  • Measurement of fat in the stool



Depending on the findings, your gastroenterologist will work closely with you to help you treat and manage the underlying disease process causing your chronic diarrhea.


Do you or a family member suffer recurrent bouts of diarrhea? Revere Health’s gastroenterologists are specialists who diagnose and treat a wide variety of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. Some of these disorders include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Available in multiple locations throughout Utah, we work with you to develop a treatment plan based on your individual needs and goals.

Revere Health’s experienced gastroenterology professionals offer comprehensive prevention, diagnosis and treatment of digestive disorders. We will work with you to develop a treatment plan based on your individual needs and goals.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.