What are watery stools?

Watery stools are loose stools and highly liquid in nature. There are several reasons why people develop watery stools, and while they may resolve on their own in some cases, medical attention may be necessary if they persist or if patients develop other symptoms. Treatment may be provided by a general practitioner or a gastrointestinal specialist, and for some causes, treatment by another specialist, such as an immunologist, may be necessary.

In people with watery stools, the colon does not reabsorb water during the digestive process. As a result, when people use the bathroom, their normally solid stool mixes with a large amount of liquid. It is not uncommon for people to experience bowel urgency and the need to defecate more frequently than unusual while having watery stools. Also described as diarrhea, watery stools are associated with a number of different medical problems.

If the intestinal tract, especially the colon, becomes inflamed in any way, water absorption will be reduced and the patient may develop watery stools. Reasons for inflammation include food allergies, food intolerances, and infections. Diet can also play a role, and some people may notice that certain foods seem to trigger inflammation, as seen in inflammatory bowel disease.

In some cases, the cause runs its course and the stools firm up on their own. Fluid replacement is recommended to keep patients hydrated by compensating for water loss that occurs through the stool. Patients may also benefit from eating high-fiber foods that will firm the stool and bland foods that will reduce irritation and inflammation. If watery stools persist, become bloody, or are associated with symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, altered level of consciousness, and weakness, it may be advisable to see a doctor.

A doctor may review a patient's history, test a stool sample for signs of infectious organisms, and perform other diagnostic tests to learn more about why a patient has developed watery stools. Medications may be offered to reduce inflammation and protect the intestine. If the patient is severely dehydrated, fluids may be infused to quickly replace the patient's lost water and make them more comfortable.

Watery stools can be a common problem when traveling because people are stressed, eating new foods, and potentially eating and drinking contaminated food and water. The risk of traveler's diarrhea can be reduced by consuming food and drinks prepared in clean environments.

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