The potential causes of diarrhea can include anything from a viral illness to a parasitic infection to overindulging in your favorite dessert. It may also be related to chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or a medication you take regularly. So, how do you know when to see a doctor for diarrhea?
Board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Prem Chattoo and his team at Hudson River Gastroenterology offer these guidelines regarding the causes of diarrhea and when to seek medical care.
When should you see a doctor for diarrhea?
While it’s common, it’s certainly not normal to have diarrhea for weeks at a time or to experience recurrent bouts of diarrhea. Most adults have acute (sudden onset) diarrhea once a year, and children tend to develop acute diarrhea about twice a year.
Thus, our team at Hudson River Gastroenterology recommends you consider these factors when wondering whether to schedule a visit for diarrhea:
Duration and frequency of symptoms
If diarrhea lasts more than two days in adults or 24 hours in children, it’s time to consider seeing a doctor. Persistent diarrhea can lead to dehydration and may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Signs of dehydration
Dehydration is a serious concern, especially in older adults, children, and people with weakened immune systems.
Symptoms of dehydration include excessive thirst, dark urine, dry skin, dizziness, and fatigue. In children, additional signs might include dry mouth and tongue, crying without tears, and fewer wet diapers than usual.
Note that diarrhea may irritate the anal area, sometimes leading to bright red blood on the toilet tissue or a few drops in the toilet bowl. However, blood that’s darker and mixed within the stool could indicate a bacterial infection, inflammatory bowel disease, or other conditions that require medical attention.
Moderate to severe pain
Experiencing moderate to severe abdominal or rectal pain alongside diarrhea warrants a visit to the doctor.
A temperature above 102 degrees accompanying diarrhea can signal an infection that requires medical treatment.
If you've recently traveled internationally, especially to regions with poor sanitation or different dietary practices, and you experience diarrhea, it may be due to a travel-related infection (traveler’s diarrhea).
Underlying health conditions
People with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and those with weakened immune systems due to medications or other illnesses should always consult a physician if they frequently experience diarrhea.
Never stop a prescription medication without your doctor’s advice, but check whether diarrhea is a potential side effect. Common culprits include antibiotics, metformin, and antidepressants. Schedule a visit for care that may include adjusting your medications or starting an alternative.
If you're experiencing symptoms along with diarrhea (unexplained weight loss, changes in appetite, skin rashes, etc.), schedule a visit with Dr. Chattoo since these could indicate an underlying digestive condition like Crohn’s.
Older adults may be more susceptible to complications from diarrhea, such as dehydration.
Otherwise, while most episodes of diarrhea are short-lived and harmless, our team recommends scheduling an appointment with Dr. Chattoo whenever you’re concerned about your digestive health.
Call the Hudson River Gastroenterology office today or request an appointment online.