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Diarrhea
Signs and Symptoms

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

Other causes include medications, such as antibiotics that disturb the natural balance of the bacteria in your intestines, artificial sweeteners and lactose, which is a sugar found in milk.

Diarrhea that persists for more than a couple of days is considered chronic and may be a sign of an underlying condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease or an infection. In these cases, diarrhea may lead to dehydration and requires the care of your doctor. Dehydration occurs when the body has lost too much fluid and electrolytes -- the salts potassium and sodium. The fluid and electrolytes lost during diarrhea need to be replaced promptly because the body cannot function properly without them.

Signs and symptoms associated with diarrhea may include:

  • Frequent loose, watery stools
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Bleeding
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness from dehydration

Diarrhea caused by a viral infection, such as a stomach virus, or bacterial infection also may cause vomiting. In addition, blood and mucus in the stools may appear with diarrhea caused by bacterial infections.

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
400 Parnassus Ave., Box 0310
San Francisco, CA 94143-0310
Phone: (415) 353-9383
Fax: (415) 353-2505
Appointment information