This post was last updated on July 11, 2016

Almost everyone has an occasional bout of diarrhea. It is inconvenient, and many times, the exact cause is hard to determine. Diarrhea can often come out of nowhere and is frequently a symptom of food poisoning, a virus, or even stress.

Diarrhea is one of the most commonly occurring health problems affecting all ages. Most adults will have at least four episodes of diarrhea each year. Bouts that come on suddenly may last up to 14 days.

Diarrhea occurs when there is an increase in the number of bowel movements or bowel movements are more watery and loose than normal. When the intestines push stools through the bowel before the water in the stool can be reabsorbed, diarrhea occurs. It can also occur when inflammation of the bowel lining causes excess fluid to leak into the stool.

It is your body’s way of quickly clearing viruses, bacteria, or toxins from the digestive tract. Since most cases of diarrhea are viral, they will clear up in a few days with good home treatment.

Learn more about what causes diarrhea


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Diarrhea Symptoms

Symptoms of diarrhea may include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Urgent need to go to the bathroom

RELATED: Fiber and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What Causes Diarrhea?

Some causes of diarrhea may include:

  • Food poisoning
  • Stomach flu
  • Some forms of inflammatory bowel disease including irritable bowel syndrome
  • Drinking untreated water
  • Some prescription and over-the-counter medications and antibiotics
  • Anxiety/emotional stress

RELATED: Can Stress Cause Digestive Disorders?

How Do You Treat Diarrhea?

When experiencing a bout of diarrhea, try these coping strategies to manage your symptoms:

  • Rehydrate – drink water and electrolytes to replenish fluids lost through diarrhea.
  • Eat bland, safe foods – stick with soup, broth, and salty crackers. Slowly add in yogurt and complex carbohydrates like rice and bread.
  • Avoid trigger foods – steer clear of foods and drinks containing caffeine, lots of sugar, fried and spicy foods, and dairy products.

Many things can cause diarrhea, from environmental factors to chronic conditions. Pay attention to your symptoms and be sure to keep yourself hydrated and nourished until it clears up. If the problem continues longer than two days, contact your doctor.

To learn more about diarrhea and other digestive issues, visit the UPMC Digestive Disorders Center for more information or to speak with an expert.

About Digestive Disorders

The UPMC Digestive Disorders Center cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Most of our office visits and outpatient procedures take place at UPMC Presbyterian or UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland. We also provide inpatient care at UPMC Montefiore or UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.