Diarrhea is loose, watery stools (bowel movements). You have diarrhea if you have loose stools three or more times in one day. 


Acute diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts a short time. 


Diarrhea is common in both children and adults. It is the body’s way of cleaning intestines from bacteria, viruses, and infections. The symptoms often pass within a few days without treatment, but sometimes diarrhea is a symptom of another disease that needs to be investigated.


Diarrhea can be a symptom of food allergy, infection or a disease. 


When the large intestine cannot absorb liquid as usual, both food and fluid move too quickly through the intestine – causing the stools to become more watery.


Diarrhea is often caused by viruses or bacteria and can be one of several symptoms associated with stomach flu or food poisoning. It can be also caused by various illnesses. Some intestinal infections or inflammatory bowel disease appear in the form of abdominal pain, diarrhea and fever, as well as nausea and vomiting. IBS often causes diarrhea, bloating and stomach gas.


In connection with international travel you may have so-called ‘traveler’s diarrhea’ which can sometimes be prolonged and cause a deterioration in overall health.


Common causes of diarrhea:


  • Infections – viruses and bacteria
  • Medicines – antibiotics can kill the good intestinal bacterial flora
  • Food allergies and intolerances – for example, lactose, gluten and cow’s milk protein
  • Diet – food with too little fat, too much fiber, fructose or artificial sweeteners.


Other, rarer causes of diarrhea include parasites and ingestion of toxic substances.


Diarrhea is characterized by loose and watery stools. You probably need to have a bowel movement frequently. Many suffer from abdominal pain, others feel weak and shaky, sometimes in combination with nausea and vomiting. Gas in the stomach, bloating and fever are also common symptoms associated with diarrhea.


The problems usually pass within a few days, but pay attention to your general condition and signs of dehydration – vomiting and diarrhea cause disturbances in the body’s salt balance. Children suffer from dehydration faster and worse than adults.


Symptoms of dehydration:


  • decreased urination
  • dark urine
  • increased heart rate 
  • dry lips
  • dry skin
  • increased thirst.

Prevention and protection

It is easy for the body to become dehydrated. Therefore, you need to get enough fluid, in small amounts at frequent intervals. Children are particularly sensitive to fluid deficiency. If you breastfeed a child with diarrhea, you can continue with breastfeeding, but getting enough fluid in small amounts at frequent intervals is also required. Contact a doctor if your baby is suffering from diarrhea.


Recipes for fluid replacement (adults and children over one year):


  • 1 liter of water
  • 6 teaspoons of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of concentrated fruit juice or juice


Boil the water, allow it to cool and mix sugar and salt.


Electrolyte replacement drinks are also available at pharmacies. There you will also find non-prescription medicines, but they should not be given to young children.


Foods that contain a lot of starch make the stools firmer, for example, rice, oats and soup. Start with small portions and avoid dairy products, alcohol, coffee and fried foods.


If you suspect the cause of the diarrhea is diet-related, you can increase the fat content and lower the fiber content of your food. If the diarrhea has been caused by viruses or bacteria, hand hygiene and careful cleaning of the toilet is extra important to prevent the spread of infection.


If you use birth control pills, you should keep in mind that severe diarrhea can affect your contraceptive protection.


In most cases, no treatment is needed – diarrhea usually passes after a few days. In order for the intestinal contents to become harder, a smaller intake of fiber and a larger intake of starch and fat are generally required. In case of severe or prolonged diarrhea, it is important to replace the fluid that the body has lost.


If severe symptoms persist, stool and blood tests can provide important information for the correct diagnosis and treatment. 


Sometimes an examination of the rectum, esophagus or stomach is required to determine if the diarrhea could be a symptom of inflammatory bowel disease.


If the symptoms occur together with other symptoms, the entire disease picture must be evaluated, to determine the correct treatment.

When to consult a doctor

If you or your child has severe diarrhea for more than 48 hours, you should seek medical care. In case of severe abdominal pain, high fever or if you feel sick, tired and weak, you should contact a doctor. 


Serious symptoms of dehydration should also be followed up. 


Diarrhea that lasts longer than four weeks, so-called prolonged diarrhea, should be investigated by a doctor.


You should also seek medical attention if you have had gases and altered bowel habits for more than two weeks, especially if you are over 50 and have not had any problems in the past, or in the case of involuntary weight loss.


In case of acute abdominal pain, black or bloody stools, seek urgent care. 


If you suspect that you have ingested a toxic substance, you should contact emergency services.

How APPOTEK can help

If you have diarrhea, APPOTEK can help. In the initial consultation, a nurse or a doctor will make an assessment based on your symptoms. You may then be prescribed medicines or referred for further treatment. A physical examination is often required if the upset stomach is accompanied by abdominal pain, or if it is your child who is suffering.


Valeria Chernikova, Neurologist, M.D.