Ilyas Memon, MD

When Diarrhea Warrants a Trip to the Doctor

Jul 13, 2022

When Diarrhea Warrants a Trip to the Doctor

Loose, watery stools often resolve on their own. But sometimes, diarrhea can be a sign of a more serious medical condition. Learn about when your diarrhea may merit an appointment with your doctor.

Everyone comes down with an occasional case of diarrhea. You know you have it when you notice watery stools, loose bowel movements, and frequent trips to the bathroom.

In many cases, diarrhea resolves on its own. However, it can also be a sign of a medical concern that requires evaluation by a health care provider.

When should you seek care for diarrhea? And when should you just wait it out?

Dr. Ilyas Memon and his dedicated team of care providers at Texas Digestive Disease Consultants in The Woodlands, Texas, would like to give you some useful insights about diarrhea so you can have a better understanding of when it might require evaluation. Read on to learn more.

A change in stools

Normal stools are well-formed and firm but soft. When you have diarrhea, your stools become loose, liquidy, and less well-formed. Most people with normal bowel movements pass stool with frequency ranging from one or two times a day to a couple times a week.

But diarrhea comes more often than that, and may send you to the toilet three or more times per day. Diarrhea stools may also appear lighter in color than ordinary stools. 

Causes of acute diarrhea

Acute diarrhea (diarrhea that comes on suddenly) can have many causes. Among the most common are various types of infections (viral, bacterial, and parasitic).

When acute diarrhea is caused by an infection, the pathogen that causes it may enter your body through air, water, or food. For example, acute diarrhea is often a result of food poisoning, which affects about 48 million people in the United States each year.

A type of diarrhea known as traveler’s diarrhea may occur when you ingest contaminated water.

Causes of chronic diarrhea

Chronic diarrhea (diarrhea that recurs frequently or lasts a long time) can also have many causes. This type of diarrhea is less likely to resolve on its own. Typically, it is a symptom of another condition that requires treatment. Some common causes of chronic diarrhea include:

When to call the doctor

Typically, diarrhea goes away on its own in a couple of days. However, your diarrhea may merit a trip to the doctor when you are a non-pregnant, generally healthy adult with any of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in your stool
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea accompanied by a high fever (102℉ or higher)
  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than two days
  • Pus in your stool
  • Rectal bleeding or pain
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Stools that appear black or tar-like
  • Any other symptom that worries you or seems serious

If you are pregnant or you are caring for a child with diarrhea, contact your OB/GYN or pediatrician to determine whether you or your child requires medical care for any type of diarrhea, because it can be more serious in pregnant women and children. 

Similarly, if you have a weak immune system or other serious medical condition, ask your provider for guidance on when to seek medical evaluation for diarrhea. 

Care for all of your digestive health needs

If you have questions or concerns about diarrhea or any other type of digestive health conditions, our team can help. Schedule an appointment at Texas Digestive Disease Consultants by calling 281-764-9500 or booking an appointment online.