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Diagnosing Diarrhea

Diagnosing Diarrhea: The History and Physical Exam

In order to diagnose the specific diarrhea cause, your healthcare will probably begin by asking a number of questions, including questions about:
  • Your current symptoms (for example, "When did the diarrhea begin?")
  • Any medical conditions you may have
  • Medications you take
  • Recent travel history, food intake, and personal contacts.
He or she will also probably perform a physical exam. As part of this physical exam, your healthcare provider will do a rectal exam and test the stool for blood. Depending on the other symptoms, a stool sample may also be sent to the lab for evaluation.

Other Tests Used to Diagnose Diarrhea

If the cause of diarrhea is still not known, there are several other tests or procedures your healthcare provider may recommend. These may include one of the following:
During a sigmoidoscopy, the doctor uses a thin, flexible tube with a light and video camera on it to look at the inside of the rectum and lower part of the colon. A colonoscopy is similar to sigmoidoscopy; however in a colonoscopy, the doctor looks at the entire colon.
If your healthcare provider suspects a food intolerance or food allergy is causing the diarrhea, he or she may ask you to avoid:
  • Lactose (which is found in milk products and can cause diarrhea in people with lactose intolerance)
  • Carbohydrates
  • Gluten (if your healthcare provider suspects celiac disease)
  • Other foods.
This is to see whether the diarrhea responds to a change in diet.

Diarrhea Information

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