Explosive Diarrhea—What It Is and What Causes It

Yep, there's something even more awful than regular diarrhea.

Having diarrhea is unpleasant under the best of circumstances. But having so-called "explosive diarrhea" is the stuff of nightmares. But what does it mean, exactly? Doctors break it down, plus what to do if you're unlucky enough to experience this.

Defining Explosive Diarrhea

Technically, explosive diarrhea isn't a medical term, but it can be used to describe some pretty intense poop action. "When people say 'explosive diarrhea,' they usually mean there's an urgency to it and a sort of violent expulsion," Kyle Staller, MD, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Health.

It's not necessarily the same thing as severe diarrhea, which healthcare providers usually think of as having more than six loose, watery poops a day, along with symptoms of dehydration and abdominal pain, Dr. Staller explained. But explosive diarrhea can lead to severe diarrhea, Dr. Staller added.

Causes

Many conditions can cause explosive diarrhea. Dr. Staller listed the following common causes:

The giardia parasite causes the diarrheal disease giardiasis, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Giardia can be found on surfaces or in soil, food, or water that has been contaminated with poop from infected people or animals.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

It depends. If you're just having explosive diarrhea but otherwise feel OK, Dr. Staller said you're probably fine waiting it out at home.

Dr. Staller advised calling your healthcare provider ASAP if you have these symptoms along with your explosive diarrhea:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Mucus in your diarrhea
  • Dark colored urine
  • Feeling lightheaded when you stand up

"This would indicate that, at a minimum, you'll need intravenous fluids," Dr. Staller explained. Also, if you have a condition like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or are immunocompromised or pregnant, Dr. Staller recommended calling your doctor right away. You could be at a higher-than-usual risk for complications from severe diarrhea.

If you suspect that you have giardiasis (meaning, you recently swam in a lake, river, or pool that may not have been well-chlorinated), don't sit on that either, Anita Gorwara, MD, a family medicine physician and medical director of urgent care at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told Health. "You should come in and be seen," Dr. Gorwara said. If it's not treated, you run the risk of spreading it to your family members, friends, and other people around you, Dr. Gorwara pointed out.

Treatment

Your healthcare provider will often want to take a stool sample to try to determine what's behind your diarrhea, Dr. Gorwana said. Given that it can take time to get test results back, Dr. Staller told Health that many healthcare providers will prescribe an antibiotic, just in case.

As for whether you should use an OTC anti-diarrheal medication like Imodium, Dr. Staller said that it may actually work against you in the long run. "The worry is that you may keep the infection inside," Dr. Staller explained. If you're having "average diarrhea," a medication like Imodium is fine, Dr. Staller suggested. But if you're having more severe symptoms like a fever and bloody poop, you actually won't want to take one of these medications, Dr. Staller said.

At home, it's best to make sure you're taking care of yourself while you recover. "Hydration and a bland diet are important," Dr. Gorwana said.

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