Diarrhea

Diarrhea is an uncomfortable condition that can have many causes. Most cases of diarrhea will go away on their own. However, in some cases, diarrhea can lead to dehydration or be a sign of a more serious problem. Follow this chart to see if the cause of your diarrhea needs immediate medical attention.

Our trusted Symptom Checker is written and reviewed by physicians and patient education professionals. Find a possible diagnosis by choosing a symptom and answering a few simple questions.

Remember, be sure to consult with you doctor if you feel you have a serious medical problem.

Step 2

Answering Questions

  • Are you also nauseated or vomiting?

  • Did your symptoms begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating or drinking dairy products?

  • Have you eaten food that might be spoiled, or did someone else eat the same food and become ill too?

  • Have you traveled recently to another country?

  • Do you have pain in the lower left side of your abdomen, especially after you eat foods that are difficult to digest?

  • Is your diarrhea watery, and do you have a headache or muscle aches and a low fever?

  • Do you have persistent severe abdominal cramps, gas and watery diarrhea followed by greasy stools?

  • Do you have a fever, and are you experiencing pain in the middle or upper abdomen that radiates to your back?

  • Are you bloated, and are you experiencing severe lower abdominal pain or cramping?

  • Are you currently taking an antibiotic or other new medicine?

  • Do you have diarrhea along with gas, bloating and stomach pains every time you eat certain foods?

  • Do you have frequent bowel movements mixed with blood or mucus, and abdominal pain and cramping?

  • Do your bowel movements alternate between constipation and diarrhea, and does your condition seem to get worse when you’re under stress?

  • Have you had chronic constipation but suddenly experienced watery diarrhea that leaks out?

Step 3

Possible Causes

  • Diagnosis

    Your symptoms may be caused by LACTOSE INTOLERANCE. People who have this condition have trouble digesting the sugar in milk and other dairy products.


    Self Care

    If you think you have lactose intolerance, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend taking lactase enzyme tablets or drops to help prevent problems. Also, avoid eating or drinking foods and beverages that make you sick.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have FOOD POISONING. Other symptoms of food poisoning may include headache, fever and chills, and weakness.


    Self Care

    Most problems caused by food poisoning will clear up within 12 to 48 hours. In the meantime, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Children should be given an oral rehydration solution (ORS). Avoid solid foods until the diarrhea goes away.

    If your symptoms last longer than 48 hours, or you’re very uncomfortable, call your doctor.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have TRAVELER’S DIARRHEA, which is caused by contaminated food or drink.


    Self Care

    Over-the-counter medicines may help relieve your symptoms. Drink plenty of fluids but avoid alcohol, caffeine and dairy products. If your symptoms persist, call your doctor.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have a condition that affects the intestines, such as DIVERTICULOSIS or DIVERTICULITIS.


    Self Care

    See your doctor. A diet high in FIBER may help relieve your symptoms.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have viral GASTROENTERITIS, also called the stomach flu.


    Self Care

    Get plenty of rest. Children who have gastroenteritis should be given an oral rehydration solution (ORS) to prevent dehydration. Ease back into eating with bland foods and clear liquids.

    Contact your doctor if you have a high fever or your symptoms last for more than 10 days.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have a form of BACTERIAL DIARRHEA or a parasite (GIARDIA).


    Self Care

    Call your doctor promptly. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Avoid caffeine.


  • Diagnosis

    These may be symptoms of GALLBLADDER DISEASE or PANCREATITIS.


    Self Care

    Call your doctor promptly.


  • Diagnosis

    These could be symptoms of a problem such as an INTESTINAL OBSTRUCTION or blockage.


    Self Care

    SEE YOUR DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY, OR GO TO THE NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM.


  • Diagnosis

    Your diarrhea may be caused by the MEDICINE.


    Self Care

    Talk to your doctor about the antibiotic or medicine you’re taking. He or she may be able to prescribe a medicine that won’t cause diarrhea. However, don’t stop taking your current medicine unless your doctor tells you to.


  • Diagnosis

    MALABSORPTION problems, such as CELIAC DISEASE, can cause food-related diarrhea.


    Self Care

    Avoid the foods that make you sick, and discuss the problem with your doctor.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE or CROHN’S DISEASE.


    Self Care

    See your doctor. He or she will determine what treatment is right for you. Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid foods that make your symptoms worse.


  • Diagnosis

    IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME or SPASTIC COLON may be the cause of your diarrhea.


    Self Care

    Gradually increase the amount of FIBER in your diet, and drink plenty of fluids. If you see blood in your stools, call your doctor.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have a FECAL IMPACTION, a large mass of dry, hard stool that is trapped in the rectum.


    Self Care

    See your doctor.


  • Diagnosis


    Self Care

    See your doctor.