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Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be described as an abnormal increase in the frequency, volume or liquidity of your stools. The condition usually lasts a few hours to a couple of days. Diarrhea is typically associated with abdominal cramps. The most common causes of the condition are viruses, bacteria and parasites.

Diarrhea can be described as an abnormal increase in the frequency, volume or liquidity of your stools. The condition usually lasts a few hours to a couple of days. Diarrhea is typically associated with abdominal cramps.

The most common causes of diarrhea include:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Parasites

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Your doctor will ask about your medical history, perform a physical examination and order routine blood, urine and stool tests. Other diagnostic tests used to make a diagnosis of constipation include sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy.

Sigmoidoscopy

For a sigmoidoscopy, the doctor uses a special instrument called a colonoscope, which is a long, flexible tube that is about as thick as your index finger and has a tiny video camera and light on the end, to exam your rectum and lower part of your colon. During the procedure, everything will be done to help you be as comfortable as possible. Your blood pressure, pulse and the oxygen level in your blood will be carefully monitored.

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In most cases, diarrhea resolves itself after two or three days, and almost always within one to two weeks. Usually, the only treatment necessary is preventing dehydration, which can be done by drinking replacement fluids and an electrolyte mixture. Adequate levels of minerals such as sodium, magnesium, calcium and especially potassium are essential in maintaining the electrical pacing of your heartbeat. Disruption of your body's levels of fluids and minerals creates a serious electrolyte imbalance.

Medicines that stop diarrhea should not be used for people whose diarrhea is caused by bacterial infection or a parasite because they may prolong the infection. In these cases, antibiotics are typically recommended. Depending on the severity and type of virus, viral caused diarrhea is either treated with medication or left to run its course.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Gastroenterology

Gastroenterology at Mount Zion
1701 Divisadero St., Suite 120
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 502-4444
Fax: (415) 502-2249
Appointment information

Endoscopy at Parnassus
505 Parnassus Ave., Room L-103
San Francisco, CA 94143-1007
Phone (For appointments): (415) 353-2318
Phone: (415) 353-1702
Fax: (415) 353-2407
Appointment information

Endoscopy at Mount Zion
1600 Divisadero St., First Floor
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone (For appointments): (415) 502-4444
Phone: (415) 885-7768
Fax : (415) 502-2249
Appointment information

Endoscopy at Parnassus
505 Parnassus Ave., Room L-103
San Francisco, CA 94143-1007
Phone (For appointments): (415) 353-2318
Phone: (415) 353-1702
Fax: (415) 353-2407
Appointment information

Gastrointestinal Motility & Secretion Center
1701 Divisadero St., Suite 120
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 502-4444
Fax: (415) 502-2249
Appointment information