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Signs & Symptoms Gastroenterology

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.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.