What should be considered to determine the cause of diarrhea?

Updated: Jan 31, 2020
  • Author: Stefano Guandalini, MD; Chief Editor: Carmen Cuffari, MD  more...
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The clinical presentation and course of diarrhea therefore depend on its cause and on the host. Consider the following to determine the source/cause of the patient’s diarrhea:

  • Stool characteristics (eg, consistency, color, volume, frequency)

  • Presence of associated enteric symptoms (eg, nausea/vomiting, fever, abdominal pain)

  • Use of child daycare (common pathogens: rotavirus, astrovirus, calicivirus; Campylobacter, Shigella, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium species [spp])

  • Food ingestion history (eg, raw/contaminated foods, food poisoning)

  • Water exposure (eg, swimming pools, marine environment)

  • Camping history (possible exposure to contaminated water sources)

  • Travel history (common pathogens affect specific regions; also consider rotavirus and Shigella, Salmonella, and Campylobacter spp regardless of specific travel history, as these organisms are prevalent worldwide)

  • Animal exposure (eg, young dogs/cats: Campylobacter spp; turtles: Salmonella spp)

  • Predisposing conditions (eg, hospitalization, antibiotic use, immunocompromised state)

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