When Should You See A Doctor For Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is characterized by repeated loose and watery stools that last for two to three days (via WebMD). One common cause of diarrhea is a gastrointestinal infection, which includes the so-called "traveler's diarrhea." In cases like this, the infection comes from drinking tap water contaminated with e. Coli bacteria (via WebMD). Such poisoning can also happen at home from eating food that's spoiled or contaminated, per Healthline.

You might also experience chronic diarrhea if you have a food intolerance or allergy. Common culprits include spicy foods, milk products, foods containing caffeine, sugar substitutes, and fructose (via Healthline). Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease, can also lead to regular diarrhea and should be treated by a doctor, per the Mayo Clinic.

The Mayo Clinic also explains that although diarrhea is common and most cases are acute, extreme cases require a doctor's visit. More than 10 daily stools can lead to life-threatening dehydration, which requires treatment.

When should you see a doctor for diarrhea?

Although most cases of diarrhea usually clear on their own, some situations require a visit to the doctor as soon as possible (via Mayo Clinic). The rule of thumb for healthy adults is if diarrhea lasts more than two days and is accompanied by symptoms, such as fever, black or bloody stools, dry mouth, drowsiness, irritability, or severe abdominal pain, medical advice should also be sought. For children, it's advisable to see a doctor after just 24 hours (via Mayo Clinic).

To clarify the cause of sudden diarrhea, the doctor will likely ask about your medical history, gut health, eating habits, recent travel destinations, and any intolerances. If you recently traveled abroad, information on regionally occurring viral diseases can help identify suspected pathogens. Other testing methods include a stool test, upper endoscopy, hydrogen breath test, and colonoscopy (via Johns Hopkins Medicine).

In some instances, you may suspect a food intolerance (accompanied by diarrhea or another intestinal disorder) is the cause. In that case, you should always consult a doctor and carefully monitor the foods you eat, as well as your fluid balance. A doctor can then initiate further investigations to determine the exact cause and suggest an appropriate therapy.

Common treatment options and preventative measures

Depending on the diagnosis, there are many other treatment options for diarrhea. Drugs, such as loperamide, can reduce the frequency of going to the toilet by slowing down the pace at which food moves through your intestines. This eventually allows you to absorb more water (via WebMD).

Sometimes, certain yeast tablets, like Saccharomyces boulardii, are recommended. These may accelerate the excretion of bad organisms and support the restoration of the natural intestinal flora (via WebMD).

To prevent pathogens from being transmitted from food and contaminated objects, washing your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap is vital. In everyday life, hands often come into contact with viruses and bacteria. Therefore, hand disinfection can also be useful in preventing acute diarrhea, per MedicalNewsToday. If there is a second toilet at home, it is helpful if the sick family member uses it alone until they have recovered.