Diarrhea is an uncomfortable condition that can have many causes. Most cases of diarrhea will go away on their own. However, in some cases, diarrhea can lead to dehydration or be a sign of a more serious problem. Follow this chart to see if the cause of your diarrhea needs immediate medical attention.
Selecting A Symptom
Back to Symptoms
Are you also nauseated or vomiting?
Did you recently start taking an antibiotic or other new over-the-counter or prescribed medicine or supplement?
Did your symptoms begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating or drinking dairy products?
Did your diarrhea develop within 2-8 hours after eating food that might be spoiled, or did someone else eat the same food and become ill too?
Have you traveled recently to another country?
Do you have sharp pain in the lower left side of your abdomen, and are you often constipated?
Is your diarrhea watery, and do you have a headache or muscle aches and a low fever?
Do you have persistent, severe abdominal cramps, gas, and watery diarrhea followed by greasy stools?
Do you have a fever, and are you experiencing pain in the middle or upper abdomen that radiates to your back?
Are you bloated, and are you experiencing severe lower abdominal pain or cramping?
Do you have diarrhea along with gas, bloating, and stomach pains every time you eat certain foods?
Do you have frequent loose bowel movements mixed with blood or mucus, and diffuse/generalized abdominal pain and cramping?
Do your bowel movements alternate between constipation and diarrhea, and does your condition seem to get worse when you’re under stress?
Have you had chronic constipation (long bouts between bowel movements associated with abdominal pain, bloating and straining to defecate), but suddenly experienced watery diarrhea that leaks out?
Back to Questions
You may have GASTROENTERITIS (stomach flu).
Drink plenty of water, eat a bland diet (smaller, more frequent meals that include non-spicy foods) and see your doctor if you develop and find blood or mucous in your diarrhea or vomit.
Your diarrhea may be a side effect or adverse reaction caused by the medicine.
Talk to your doctor about the antibiotic or medicine you’re taking. He or she may be able to prescribe a medicine that won’t cause diarrhea. However, don’t stop taking your current medicine unless your doctor tells you.
Your symptoms may be caused by LACTOSE INTOLERANCE. People who have this condition have trouble digesting the sugar in milk and other dairy products.
If you think you have LACTOSE INTOLERANCE, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may recommend taking lactase enzyme tablets or drops to help prevent problems. Also, avoid eating or drinking foods and beverages that make you sick.
You may have FOOD POISONING. Other symptoms of FOOD POISONING may include headache, fever, chills, and weakness.
Most problems caused by FOOD POISONING will clear up within 12-48 hours. In the meantime, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Children should be given an oral rehydration solution (ORS). Avoid solid foods until the diarrhea goes away. A simple way to make a home-based ORS is to boil a cup of white rice until the rice has completely overcooked and split and the water is cloudy. Keep the water and throw out the mushy rice. The water replaces the electrolytes lost in diarrhea.
If your symptoms last longer than 48 hours, or you’re very uncomfortable, call your doctor.
You may have TRAVELER’S DIARRHEA, which is caused by contaminated food or drink.
Over-the-counter medicines may help relieve your symptoms. Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcohol, caffeine, and dairy products. If your symptoms persist or if you have blood or mucous in your diarrhea, call your doctor.
You may have a condition that affects the intestines, such as DIVERTICULOSIS or DIVERTICULITIS.
See your doctor. A diet high in FIBER and water may help relieve your symptoms.
You may have GASTROENTERITIS (stomach flu).
Get plenty of rest. Children who have GASTROENTERITIS should be given an oral rehydration solution (ORS) to prevent dehydration. A simple way to make a home-based ORS is to boil a cup of white rice until the rice has completely overcooked and split and the water is cloudy. Keep the water and throw out the mushy rice. The water replaces the electrolytes lost in diarrhea.
Ease back into eating with bland foods and clear liquids.
Contact your doctor if you have a high fever (greater than 101.5°F), your symptoms last for more than 10 days, or if you are unable to tolerate liquids for more than 2 days.
You may have a form of BACTERIAL DIARRHEA or a parasite (GIARDIA).
Call your doctor promptly. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Avoid caffeine.
You may have GALLBLADDER DISEASE, a perforated ULCER PANCREATITIS.
Call your doctor promptly.
These could be symptoms of a problem such as an INTESTINAL OBSTRUCTION or blockage.
See your doctor right away, or go to the nearest emergency room.
MALABSORPTION problems, such as CELIAC DISEASE, can cause food-related diarrhea. Food sensitivities can also cause similar symptoms.
Avoid the foods that make you sick, and discuss the problem with your doctor. Keep a food diary (writing down what and when you eat and when symptoms develop) to help determine patterns or triggers for your symptoms.
You may have INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE or CROHN’S DISEASE.
See your doctor. He or she will determine what treatment is right for you. Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid foods that make your symptoms worse.
IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME or SPASTIC COLON may be the cause of your DIARRHEA.
Gradually increase the amount of fiber in your diet if constipation is the main issue, and drink plenty of fluids. If you see blood in your stools, call your doctor.
You may have a FECAL IMPACTION, a large mass of dry, hard stool that is trapped in the rectum.
See your doctor.
For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think your problem is serious, call your doctor right away.
Signs and Symptoms of Diverticulitis
In many cases, diverticula cause no symptoms but occasionally they can become infected and/or inflamed, which is a condition called diverticulitis.
The most common symptom of diverticulitis is stomach pain (usually on the left side), but it can also cause a change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea), fever, and nausea or vomiting.
Luckily, even with symptoms, the majority of cases of diverticulitis are not complicated and can be treated at home. However, according to a 2010 study around 27 percent of the time there can be complications that require hospitalization.
The abdominal pain is the most common symptom of diverticulitis and it is usually constant and goes on for several days.
In most cases, the diverticula form in the last part of the large intestine, which is called the sigmoid colon. It is located on the left side of the abdomen, which is why diverticulitis may lead to feeling discomfort or pain primarily on that side.
However, in a minority of cases, some people may have pain on the right or on both sides of the abdomen if there are diverticula in other parts of the colon.
Other common symptoms can include:
- diarrhea (occasionally)
- lack of appetite
Bleeding with diverticulitis isn’t common but can occur in some cases. If there are complications from the diverticulitis, such as a fistula, abscess, or bowel perforation, there can be other symptoms caused by those conditions. Symptoms of diverticulitis that are less common can include:
- bladder irritation or urinary symptoms
- blood in the stool
- rectal bleeding
While they are not common, there are several different complications that may occur along with diverticulitis.
An abscess is a bacterial infection that causes a pocket of blood and pus to form. Abscesses associated with diverticulitis may cause fever and abdominal pain. They are treated with antibiotics and/or drainage.
A fistula is a tunnel that forms in the body and connects either two organs or an organ and the skin.
Symptoms of a fistula (which depends on location) can include a break in the skin, swelling, pain, passing air while urinating, passing stool through the vagina, a visible skin break, or drainage from the area.
A fistula may be treated with surgery or with the use of a seton, which is a thread that is gradually tightened until the fistula is closed.
A bowel obstruction is a blockage in the intestine which prevents the passage of stool. When diverticulitis leads to a bowel obstruction the symptoms can include abdominal pain, distention, and bloating; constipation or diarrhea; thin stools; and nausea and vomiting.
An obstruction might be treated in the hospital through the use of a nasogastric (NG) tube or in some cases may require surgery.
A perforation is a hole in the colon. It is a serious condition that requires treatment immediately in order to prevent complications such as peritonitis, which is a potentially fatal infection.
The symptoms of a perforation can include severe abdominal pain, fever, chills, bleeding from the rectum, and nausea and vomiting.
When to See a Doctor
Diverticulitis can be managed at home, but the symptoms always require a trip to the doctor or the hospital for evaluation and direction for treatment at home or in the hospital.
Abdominal pain should prompt a call to a doctor, but when it is severe and accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, and rectal bleeding it is a reason to go to the emergency department right away or even to call 911.
Diverticulitis Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.
In most cases diverticulitis is uncomplicated, but with severe symptoms there is a risk of complications that can be serious and life-threatening. Even if symptoms are thought to be from diverticulitis because it has happened before, calling a doctor is important in order to get the correct treatment and to ensure that more serious problems aren’t going to occur.
Frequently Asked Questions
A diverticulitis attack typically involves abdominal pain on the left side. It may also include a change in bowel habits with either constipation or diarrhea, fever, nausea, or vomiting.
When you are having a diverticulitis flare-up, it is recommended to avoid high-fiber foods such as whole grains, fruit and vegetable skin, nuts, seeds, beans, and popcorn.
Severe abdominal pain accompanied by fever, nausea, vomiting, or rectal bleeding should be seen immediately.
What Causes Diverticulitis?
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National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & causes of diverticular disease. Updated May 2016.
Imaeda H, Hibi T. The burden of diverticular disease and its complications: West versus east. Inflamm Intest Dis. 2018;3(2):61-68. doi:10.1159/000492178
Onur MR, Akpinar E, Karaosmanoglu AD, Isayev C, Karcaaltincaba M. Diverticulitis: a comprehensive review with usual and unusual complications. Insights Imaging. 2017;8(1):19-27. doi:10.1007/s13244-016-0532-3
Cleveland Clinic. What foods should you eat—and avoid—on a diverticulitis diet? Updated November 20, 2020.
Ansari P. Intra-Abdominal Abscesses. Merck Manual Professional Edition. Updated December 2018.
Baum JA. Colonic Diverticulitis. Merck Manual Professional Edition. Updated March 2019.
Can Constipation Cause a Fever?
Constipation and fever can occur at the same time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the constipation caused your fever. The fever may be caused by an underlying condition that’s also related to constipation.
For example, if your constipation is caused by a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection, that infection may result in fever. The cause of the fever is the infection, not the constipation, even though they occur simultaneously.
Keep reading to learn more about what might cause constipation and fever.
Symptoms of constipation
If you poop fewer than three times a week, you’re constipated. Other signs and symptoms include:
If you’ve experienced two or more of these symptoms, including pooping fewer than three times a week, your constipation may be considered chronic.
What causes constipation?
According to Harvard Medical School, typically constipation isn’t related to an illness. It’s usually caused by lifestyle, diet, or some other factor that hardens the poop or interferes with its ability to pass easily and comfortably.
Causes that may lead to chronic constipation include:
- nutritional problems, such as not enough fiber or liquid consumption
- sedentary lifestyle
- blockages in the rectum or colon, caused by conditions such as bowel obstruction, bowel stricture, rectocele, rectal cancer, colon cancer
- nerve problems around the rectum and colon caused by conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, autonomic neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injury
- functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- conditions that affect hormones, such as diabetes, hyperparathyroidism, hypothyroidism, pregnancy
- problems with pelvic muscles, such as dyssynergia and anismus
Can constipation cause a fever in children?
If your child is constipated and develops a fever, see your pediatrician. Other reasons to take your constipated child to the doctor include:
- the constipation has lasted longer than 2 weeks
- there’s blood in their poop
- they’re not eating
- their abdomen is swollen
- their bowel movements cause pain
- they’re experiencing rectal prolapse (part of the intestine coming out of their anus)
Causes of constipation in children
When poop moves through the digestive tract too slowly, it can become hard and dry. This can result in constipation.
Contributors to constipation in your child may include:
Although rare, constipation could be caused by an underlying condition, such as:
Treating constipation in children
Your pediatrician may offer a long-term recommendation that includes making sure your child gets enough:
For immediate constipation concerns, your pediatrician may recommend:
- over-the-counter (OTC) stool softeners
- OTC fiber supplements
- glycerin suppositories
- OTC laxatives
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, you should never give your child stool softeners, laxatives, or enemas, unless specifically instructed by your pediatrician.
Although constipation may not be the cause of your fever, the two conditions may be related.
If you have signs of chronic constipation or constipation combined with other conditions, such as fever, talk about it with your doctor. They can conduct a full diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.
If your child has been constipation for longer than 2 weeks, take them to a pediatrician. Take them without delay if they have constipation and:
- blood in stool
- lack of appetite
- swollen abdomen
- pain when pooping
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