Acute Diarrheal Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Recommendations

It consists of three or more loose or watery stools per day. Most people have an episode of diarrhea at some point in their life.

The average adult can experience these mild or severe episodes about four times a year.

Although most cases of diarrhea resolve within a few days without treatment, it is important to know when to seek help and see a doctor.

Causes of acute diarrheal illness

It can be caused by infections or a variety of other factors. The cause of acute diarrhea is not identified in most people, especially those who improve without treatment.

Acute diarrhea caused by infections can be the result of eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Symptoms of infection usually begin 12 hours to 4 days after ingestion, which last for three to seven days.

Causes of infections include:

  • Viral infection.
  • Bacterial infection.
  • Parasites

In relation to the other factors, acute diarrhea can occur as a side effect of antibiotics or other drugs, food allergies, gastrointestinal illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease, and other illnesses.

Some factors not related to infections that cause acute diarrhea are:

  • Intake of antibiotics.
  • Intolerance to some foods.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases.
  • Celiac Disease.


Diarrhea can present at an acute or severe level. In acute diarrhea there may be some loose excretions, however there is no other discomfort.

In contrast, severe diarrhea can cause 20 or more bowel movements per day, so watery or loose excretion occurs up to every 20 to 30 minutes.

Severe diarrhea can cause a significant loss of water and salts in the body, which can lead to body dehydration. Also, it may be accompanied by fever, abdominal pain, or cramps.

One way to know the hydration of the body is to observe the color of the urine and keep track of how often you urinate:

  • If you urinate infrequently or have dark yellow urine, you should drink more fluids as you can become dehydrated.
  • If you are well hydrated, you should urinate for three to five hours, and your urine should be light yellow to almost colorless.

The characteristics of dehydration are:

  • Slowness.
  • Easy tiredness.
  • Dry mouth and tongue.
  • However, continued.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Dark colored urine.
  • Urinate infrequently
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness after standing or sitting.

The most serious features of dehydration include:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Chest pain.
  • Confusion or trouble staying alert.


Home treatments

Drink adequate fluids

If you have symptoms of acute diarrhea, you can usually be treated at home by drinking extra fluids that contain water, salt, and sugar.

Oral rehydration solution, that is, a specific mixture of glucose and sodium, is the most recommended home treatment.

Commercial sports drinks are not optimal for fluid replacement, although they can be efficient for a person with diarrhea who is not dehydrated and healthy.

Diluted fruit juices and flavored sodas along with crackers and broths or soups may also be acceptable.

If you become dehydrated and cannot take fluids by mouth, an intravenous rehydration solution may be given and you should seek medical attention.


Proper nutrition is important during an episode of acute diarrhea. If you don’t have an appetite, you can only drink liquids for a short period of time.

Boiled starches and cereals (for example, potatoes, noodles, rice, wheat, and oats) with salt are recommended if you have watery diarrhea; You can also eat crackers, bananas, soup, and boiled vegetables.

Medical treatments

Antidiarrheal medications

Medications to reduce diarrhea are available, and they are safe if there is no fever and the stools are not bloody.

These medications do not cure the cause of diarrhea, but they do help reduce the frequency of bowel movements. These are:

  • Loperamide: the dose is (4 mg) initially, then (2 mg) after each unformed stool. No more than 16 mg per day is recommended. Taking more than the recommended dose can lead to serious heart problems.
  • Diphenoxylate-atropine:  Its benefit is similar to loperamide, although it can be associated with more annoying side effects.
  • Bismuth Subsalicylate: Not as effective as loperamide. The dose is 30 ml or two tablets every 30 minutes for up to eight doses. It is recommended when you have a fever and bloody diarrhea.

Antibiotics are not needed in most cases of acute diarrhea, and they can actually make diarrhea worse or cause more complications if used improperly.

Antibiotics may be recommended in certain situations, such as if you have the following signs or symptoms:

  • More than eight loose stools per day.
  • Dehydration
  • Symptoms that continue for more than a week.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • In those people who require hospitalization.

However, the decision to use antibiotics should be made carefully after discussing the potential risks and benefits with a doctor who is familiar with the situation.


Prevention of the spread

Adults with diarrhea should exercise caution to avoid transmitting the infection to family, friends, and co-workers. It is considered infectious as long as the diarrhea continues.

The microorganisms that cause diarrhea are transmitted through the hands and especially after an episode of excretion.

So hand washing, careful diaper changes, and absent from work or school while symptoms continue are some ways to prevent spread.

Hand washing is an effective way to prevent the spread of infection. Ideally, hands should be moistened with normal or antibacterial soap and water and rubbed for 15 to 30 seconds.

Special attention should be paid to the fingernails, between the fingers and the wrists. It is necessary to rinse hands well and dry with a single-use towel.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an alternative to sanitizing hands. These should be spread over the entire surface of the hands, fingers, and wrists until dry.

Hands should be washed after changing a diaper, before and after preparing food and eating, after using the bathroom, and after handling garbage or dirty clothes.

Prevention of acute diarrhea

  • Do not drink unpasteurized milk or foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating them.
  • Keep the refrigerator temperature at 4.4 ° C or less; the freezer at -17.8 ° C or below.
  • Use precooked, perishable, or ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.
  • Keep raw meat, fish, and poultry separate from other foods.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling raw foods, including produce and raw meat.
  • Thoroughly cook raw animal foods to a safe internal temperature (ground beef 71 ° C; chicken 77 ° C; pork 63 ° C).
  • Seafood should be cooked thoroughly to minimize the risk of food poisoning. Eating raw fish poses a risk for a variety of parasites.
  • Cook the eggs thoroughly, until the yolk is firm.
  • Refrigerate food quickly. Never leave cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the room temperature is above 32 ° C).

For pregnant women or people with a weakened immune system

  • Do not eat pâtés, cold cuts, mortadella, or other processed meats unless they are cooked; avoid using microwave ovens as uneven cooking may occur.
  • Avoid spilling liquid from raw meat packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces.
  • Do not eat pre-prepared salads, such as ham salad, chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad, or seafood salad.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, blue-streaked cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses, unless they have a label clearly stating that the cheese is made from pasteurized milk.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads. However, you can eat canned or non-perishable products.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it has been cooked. However, preserved or stable smoked shellfish can be eaten.


If the diarrhea is not severe, it is not always necessary to see a doctor, especially if the diarrhea begins to improve within 48 hours.

However, if you have one or more of the following signs or symptoms, you should be evaluated by a specialist:

  • Profuse watery diarrhea with signs of dehydration.
  • Lots of small stools that contain blood and mucus.
  • Bloody or black diarrhea.
  • Temperature greater than or equal to 38.5 ° C.
  • Six or more unformed stools per 24 hours or symptoms lasting more than 48 hours.
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Pain when expelling stool.

Also, if you have persistent diarrhea after taking antibiotics, are over the age of 69, have other medical conditions, or have a weakened immune system, you should also see a doctor.