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Virtually everyone has had diarrhea — frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements — at some point. Besides being a routine side effect of antibiotics and a common gastrointestinal response to food intolerance, it’s also a normal immune system response to food poisoning. The team of board-certified doctors at My Emergency Room 24/7 in San Marcos, Texas provide comprehensive care for patients with severe diarrhea, including IV hydration when necessary. If you’re experiencing worrisome diarrhea, come in any time for prompt, no-wait care.

Diarrhea Q & A

What is severe diarrhea?

Diarrhea is a bowel movement that’s more liquid-y than normal, occurs more often than normal, or expels a much higher volume of stool than normal. More specifically, diarrhea involves passing three or more loose or watery stools a day.

Usually, stool is about 25% dietary fiber, protein, fat, mucus, and intestinal secretions, and 75% water. As solid waste travels through your intestinal tract, it collects the fluids and electrolytes that are secreted during digestion. Because your large intestine typically absorbs any excess fluid, your stool is usually firm and solid.

When you have diarrhea, however, the digestive process intensifies. That may mean your digestive tract secretes more fluids and electrolytes than normal, or your large intestine can’t absorb the rush of fluid quickly enough.

What causes severe diarrhea?

Severe diarrhea can be caused by various underlying factors, ranging from a short-term infection to a chronic digestive problem.

Acute diarrhea, which lasts anywhere from two days to two weeks may be caused by:

  • Bacterial infections: Salmonella and E. coli are two of the most common bacterial infections associated with severe, short-term diarrhea. They’re usually contracted through contaminated foods.
  • Viral infections: Rotavirus, norovirus, and viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, are some of the viruses that can cause severe acute diarrhea.
  • Parasitic infections: Parasites such as Giardia lamblia or cryptosporidium, which can be found in contaminated drinking water, food, and recreational water, can also cause severe short-term diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea, which persists for longer than four weeks, is more likely to be a sign of:
  • Food intolerance: Long-term diarrhea is often a problem for people with undiagnosed food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance.
  • Certain medications: A variety of prescription drugs can cause chronic diarrhea, including certain heartburn and acid reflux medications, antibiotics, and chemotherapy drugs.
  • Chronic bowel diseases: Long-standing diarrhea can also indicate a severe bowel disorder like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
When does diarrhea require emergency care?

It’s a good idea to seek medical care if you have severe diarrhea that hasn’t improved after two days. Severe diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so you should also seek medical attention if you become excessively thirsty or notice that your mouth is dry, your urine is dark yellow, or you feel weak, lightheaded, or dizzy.

Because children are more susceptible to the effects of dehydration, they should seek medical attention if their diarrhea hasn’t improved after 24 hours.

If you or your child has severe diarrhea, visit the experts at My Emergency Room 24/7 any time.