Our skilled gastroenterologists are highly trained in evaluating and treating digestive diseases and are experts in managing and diagnosing diarrhea. We strive to provide accurate diagnoses and effective therapies in a warm and comfortable environment.
What Is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea refers to a bowel movement composed of loose, watery stools. If you have diarrhea, you will most likely need to use the restroom more frequently than usual. Persistent diarrhea should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by one of our GI physicians for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
Most people know the symptoms of diarrhea. Frequent loose or watery bowel movements are no fun. In a severe case of diarrhea, you can expect the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody stools
- Little or dark-colored urine
- Rectal pain
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If you experience any of these symptoms with diarrhea, make sure you get plenty of fluids and contact a gastroenterologist for an evaluation.
Causes of Diarrhea
There are many causes of diarrhea. Underlying them all is your body’s inability to absorb the water from food and fluid as they pass through your colon, which results in loose, watery stools. The inability to absorb water can be caused by the type or quantity of food you eat, as well as a digestive tract illness. Here are the most common causes of diarrhea:
- Bacteria or parasites from contaminated, spoiled, or undercooked food (usually meats and dairy products)
- Contaminated water (often in a developing country)
- Viruses from unwashed surfaces or personal contact with infected individuals
- Antibiotics that indiscriminately kill bacteria, creating the possibility of infection
- Other medications, like some cancer drugs, blood pressure drugs, and antacids
- Lactose intolerance
- Fructose intolerance
- Intolerance for certain artificial sweeteners
- Previous abdominal surgery, such as to remove your gallbladder
- Chronic digestive diseases such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, diabetes, ulcerative colitis, hyperthyroidism, Addison’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, microscopic colitis, chronic pancreatitis, or inflammatory bowel disease
Many other conditions may also cause diarrhea and need a complete evaluation by a gastroenterologist for appropriate workup.
If you’re experiencing persistent diarrhea, our doctors want to find out what’s causing it so that they can treat it properly. When you visit our offices, they will perform a comprehensive physical checkup and take a full history.
Please inform your doctor if you are taking any medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter. They will collect blood, urine, or stool samples for further analysis if necessary, and will prescribe specific diagnostic tests or procedures as needed.
Your doctor may also suggest a colonoscopy with biopsies to properly diagnose your condition and rule out other illnesses. Other tests, including upper endoscopy or imaging, may be required in some instances as directed by your physician.
Your gastroenterologist will need to perform a full workup to arrive at a diagnosis for your diarrhea, as there may be many potential causes. Only after establishing a diagnosis can they prescribe an effective treatment regimen that addresses the underlying issue. These options may include inflammatory bowel disease treatment, medication adjustments, dietary changes, infection treatment, medical therapy for microscopic colitis, etc. These are only a few of the therapies available in addition to replacing lost fluids and electrolytes. Your gastroenterologist will customize a treatment plan for your symptoms after determining the precise diagnosis.
You can prevent certain types of diarrhea, like rotavirus diarrhea (caused by a highly contagious virus), traveler’s diarrhea (caused by bacterial infections), and diarrhea caused by food poisoning. When traveling to developing countries, you can decrease your risk of getting travelers’ diarrhea by abstaining from:
- drinking tap water, brushing one’s teeth with it, or using it for preparing foods or drinks
- consuming unpasteurized juice or dairy products
- eating food served by street vendors
- eating fruits that can’t be peeled on the spot
- consuming mayonnaise, sauces, salads, and local hooch
- eating meat, fish, and shellfish that is raw, not thoroughly cooked, or served cold
Food poisoning and associated diarrhea can be prevented by washing your hands often, using clean dishes and utensils, and properly cleaning and cooking your food. Except for the rotavirus vaccine, which is only available for babies under the age of 8 months, there are no self-care preventative measures for rotavirus-induced diarrhea. If you’re a new or an expecting parent, check with your health care provider to see if your child can be vaccinated.
When to See a Health Care Provider for Diarrhea?
Loose and watery stools that resolve in two days or less are not a cause for concern. However, there are some red flag symptoms that should be evaluated by an experienced specialist, such as:
- Thirst, dry mouth, and dry skin
- Weakness and dizziness
- Reduced urine output or dark urine
- Signs of blood or mucus in the stool
- Severe abdominal pain
Additionally, if you experience diarrhea that lasts longer than a day after returning from your travel, you should see a doctor for a post-trip evaluation to determine if parasites are present in your system.
Can Diarrhea Harm Your Health?
Most cases of diarrhea are self-limited and resolve without treatment. However, you run the risk of losing more fluid than your body can take in if your diarrhea does not improve, ultimately becoming dehydrated. Dehydration is especially dangerous in children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. Seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of severe dehydration.
What to Eat When You Have Diarrhea?
Certain dietary modifications can help your diarrhea. Foods you should consider adding to your diet are:
- Fruits and vegetables, including apples, bananas, peaches, apricots, carrots, green beans, potatoes, beets, melons, acorn squash, and peeled zucchini.
- Protein foods, including low-fat cheese, yogurt, boiled eggs, white fish, lean beef and pork, and skinless poultry.
- Bread products and cereals, including farina, oatmeal, cornflakes, white rice, plain noodles, white bread and bagels, crackers, white flour pancakes and waffles, and cornbread.
If you have severe diarrhea, you should avoid dairy products, fried and greasy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and gas-causing fruits and vegetables. To keep your digestive system from becoming overworked, try eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
Our doctors provide highly personalized and comprehensive care. For more information about the GI conditions we treat, including treatment & diagnosis of diarrhea, or to schedule a consultation, please contact our NYC offices.
(212) 427-8761 Manhattan Gastroenterology (Midtown) 56 W 45th St, Ste 802, New York 10036
(212) 533-2400 Manhattan Gastroenterology (Union Square) 55 W 17th St Ste 102, New York 10011