Understanding Your Digestive System:

Practical Information for someone with Acute Diarrhea

  1. What is acute diarrhea? Acute diarrhea is a diarrheal illness occurring for up to two weeks. Once diarrhea lasts beyond 2 weeks it is called Persistent Diarrhea. If diarrhea persists beyond 4 weeks it is called Chronic Diarrhea.
  2. What causes acute diarrhea? Acute diarrhea can be caused by one of many food-borne pathogens due to ingestion of undercooked foods such as beef and poultry. Some bacteria create bacterial toxins which result in rapid onset of symptoms after ingestion of toxin-containing foods. Other infectious agents includes particular viruses, parasites, travel-related bacteria diarrhea. Non-infectious agents include simple food intolerances. Typically, a careful history taking such as recent travel, use of antibiotics, sick contacts, 
  3. When should you seek medical attention?: If your diarrhea becomes bloody this may be a sign of dysentery caused by Shigella bacteria or the amoeba E. histolytica. Severe signs of illness include fever > 100.3, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting. If you develop fever, abdominal pain, or inability to tolerate oral hydration immediately seek the assistance of a gastroenterologist or internal medicine provider.  As an alternative, there are a number of urgent care centers around New York City. The doctor will ask you to provide stool samples to perform a stool culture which can take 2-3 days to result.  
  4. What is the possible outcome from acute diarrhea? Most cases of acute diarrhea resolve spontaneously and are difficult to attribute to a single pathogen or cause. Acute bloody diarrhea should be promptly evaluated for Shigella species and Entamoeba Histolytica
  5. Is it safe to use imodium? This question is best answered by a physician that can completely evaluate you by history, physical exam, and blood/stool testing. Once infectious etiologies are rule out by stool testing it may be safe to use imodium or other anti-diarrheals. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any medications. 
  6. What is safe to eat when dealing with diarrhea? Its best to avoid products containing dairy, high fat content, or rich foods. Its most important to stay well hydrated to keep up with losses of fluids in the stools. The BRAT diet is typically suggested.