If you've ever suffered through a bout of diarrhea, it may be comforting to know that you are not alone. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, the average adult experiences acute diarrhea about four times a year, and children will have seven to 15 episodes of diarrhea by the age of five. In fact, after respiratory infections, acute diarrhea is the most common illness in the U.S. However, knowing how common it is may be little consolation when it comes to coping with the symptoms of the problem.

A person with diarrhea will typically have loose, watery stools more than three times a day for a day or two, which may be accompanied by stomach cramping, abdominal pain, bloating and nausea. Acute diarrhea is usually the result of a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection. Chronic diarrhea is usually related to a chronic disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn's disease, colitis and celiac disease. Episodes of diarrhea can also be brought on by a reaction to medicines, including antibiotics, blood pressure drugs, cancer therapies and antacids containing magnesium.

Although most cases of diarrhea are resolved on their own and usually don't need medical intervention, some people can become so dehydrated from the loss of fluid, their body can't function properly. Dehydration can be particularly dangerous for children and older adults. Anyone exhibiting the signs of dehydration should be treated immediately. Some symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Thirst
  • Infrequent urination
  • No tears when crying
  • Fatigue
  • No wet diapers for three or more hours

Also seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Diarrhea lasting longer than three days
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • A fever of 102 degrees or higher
  • Blood in your stool or black, tarry stools

Treating Diarrhea

In most instances, the only course of action you have to take until your diarrhea subsides is to drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. If your diarrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, such as E. coli or salmonella, and you have a chronic health problem, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. Eating light and avoiding certain foods, such as caffeine, milk products and foods that are greasy, high in fiber or very sweet, will help lessen the problems associated with diarrhea. Try instead, soft, bland foods, including bananas, plain rice, boiled potatoes, toast, crackers and skinless baked chicken.