Viral Diarrhea (Adult)

Diarrhea caused by a virus is often called viral gastroenteritis. Many people call it the "stomach flu," but it has nothing to do with influenza. The virus that causes diarrhea affects the stomach and intestinal tract and usually lasts from 2 to 7 days. Diarrhea is the passing of loose, watery stools 3 or more times a day.


Along with diarrhea, you may have these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Loss of bowel control

  • Fever and chills

  • Bloody stools

The danger from repeated diarrhea is dehydration. Dehydration is the loss of too much water and other fluids from the body without taking in enough to replace what is lost.

Antibiotics are not effective in this illness, but there are a number of things you can do at home that will help.

Home care

Follow these home care measures:

  • If symptoms are severe, rest at home for the next 24 hours or until you are feeling better.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer to prevent the spread of infection. Wash your hands after touching anyone who is sick.

  • Wash your hands after using the toilet and before meals. Clean the toilet after each use.

Food preparation:

  • People with diarrhea should not prepare food for others. When preparing foods, wash your hands after touching anyone who is sick.

  • Wash your hands after using cutting boards, countertops, and knives that have been in contact with raw food.

  • Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.


  • You may use acetaminophen or NSAIDS such as ibuprofen or naproxen to control fever unless another medicine was prescribed.  If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Aspirin should never be used in anyone under 18 years of age who is ill with a fever. It may cause severe liver damage. Don't use NSAID medicines if you are already taking one for another condition (like arthritis) or are on aspirin (such as for heart disease or after a stroke).

  • Anti-diarrhea medicine should be taken for this condition only if advised by your healthcare provider. Sometimes anti-diarrhea medicine can make your condition worse. If you have bloody diarrhea or fever, check with your healthcare provider before taking antidiarrheals.


  • Water and clear liquids are important so you don't get dehydrated. Drink small amounts at a time, don't guzzle it down. If you are very dehydrated, sports drinks aren't a good choice. They have too much sugar and not enough electrolytes. In this case, commercially available products called oral rehydration solutions are best.

  • Caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can make the diarrhea, cramping, and pain worse.

  • Don't force yourself to eat, especially if you have cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea. Don't eat large amounts at a time, even if you are hungry. It may make you feel worse.

  • If you eat, avoid fatty, greasy, spicy, or fried foods.

  • No dairy products, as they can make diarrhea worse.

During the first 24 Hours (the first full day) follow the diet below:

  • Beverages: Water, clear liquids, soft drinks without caffeine; ginger ale, mineral water (plain or flavored), decaffeinated tea and coffee.

  • Soups: Clear broth, consommé and bouillon

  • Desserts: Plain gelatin, popsicles and fruit juice bars

During the next 24 hours (the second day) you may add the following to the above if you have improved:

  • Hot cereal, plain toast, bread, rolls, crackers

  • Plain noodles, rice, mashed potatoes, chicken noodle or rice soup

  • Unsweetened canned fruit like applesauce and bananas (avoid pineapple and citrus)

  • Limit fat intake to less than 15 grams per day by avoiding margarine, butter, oils, mayonnaise, sauces, gravies, fried foods, peanut butter, meat, poultry and fish.

  • Limit fiber; avoid raw or cooked vegetables, fresh fruits (except bananas) and bran cereals.

  • Limit caffeine and chocolate. No spices or seasonings except salt.

During the next 24 hours

  • Gradually resume a normal diet, as you feel better and your symptoms improve.

  • If at any time the diarrhea or cramping gets worse, go back to the simpler diet (above) or to clear liquids.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Call if you are not improving within 24 hours or if the diarrhea lasts more than one week. This is especially true if you are in a high-risk group. For example, if you are very elderly, have a weak immune system (from cancer treatment for example), or you have inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's or colitis).

If a stool (diarrhea) sample was taken, you may call in 2 days (or as directed) for the results.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • Increasing abdominal pain or constant lower right abdominal pain

  • Continued vomiting (unable to keep liquids down)

  • Frequent diarrhea (more than 5 times a day)

  • Blood in vomit or stool (black or red color)

  • Reduced oral intake

  • Dark urine, reduced urine output

  • Weakness, dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) oral or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • New rash

Call 911

Call 911 if any of the following occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confused

  • Severe drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Seizure

  • Stiff neck

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