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Most Common Causes of Diarrhea with Fever

Most Common Causes of Diarrhea with Fever

Diarrhea or loose, watery stool happens because the contents of the digestive tract move so quickly that the intestines don’t have adequate time to absorb the water. Fever is our natural way to fight infection since increased body temperature makes it hard for some bacteria and viruses to survive. Sometimes, we experience these two symptoms separately. But, what if they occur together? What causes diarrhea with fever?

diarrhea with fever

Viral gastroenteritis

Stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis occurs when viruses like norovirus or rotavirus infect the stomach, small intestine, or large intestine.

The infection leads to the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract lining, causing diarrhea and possibly, fever and chills.

People can contract stomach flu through person-to-person contact. It can also be due to the consumption of contaminated food and water (food poisoning).

Other symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache

A healthy person typically does not need treatment for stomach flu other than rest and plenty of fluids.

Bacterial infection

Like viruses, bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli can also enter the body by consuming contaminated food. In fact, the most common cause of food poisoning is a bacterial infection.

Besides diarrhea with fever, infection by bacteria can also cause the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Aching muscles
  • Loss of appetite

Note that the treatment depends on the bacteria and the severity of the symptoms. Most cases resolve without treatment, but you might receive antibiotics and fluid replacement therapy through the vein (swero) if your symptoms are more serious.

Parasitic infection

Parasites like Entamoeba hystolytica can cause amebiasis and lead to mild symptoms like watery stool.

According to the CDC, only 10 to 20% of patients who contract amoebiasis become sick with mild diarrhea and stomach cramps. However, if they develop amoebic dysentery, they might suffer from bloody stool and fever.

Several antibiotics can treat amoebiasis. If you don’t become sick, you may only need one kind of antibiotic. If you developed symptoms, the doctor might give you two types of antibiotics (the first one, then the other).

Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs)

Inflammatory bowel diseases are long-term conditions that cause inflammation in the digestive tract. The two kinds of IBD, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, share similar symptoms, including diarrhea with fever.

The other symptoms are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Difference Between Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease

When to seek medical help

Experiencing diarrhea with fever is an indication that you could be suffering from a GI tract infection or IBD. Consult your doctor for a precise diagnosis and proper treatment.

Additionally, you must seek medical help immediately if you:

  • Cannot tolerate fluid, food, or medicine intake
  • Have diarrhea for more than 2 days; for infants, toddlers, and young children, diarrhea lasting for more than 24 hours requires immediate treatment.
  • Develop a fever of 38.8 C or higher
  • Suffer from severe abdominal or rectal pain
  • Have blood or pus in the stool
  • Have 6 or more watery stool in the past 24 hours
  • Experience frequent vomiting
  • Signs of dehydration

While most cases of diarrhea go away on their own, it is important to seek medical help when one cannot tolerate or retain fluid, food, and/or medicine (especially in elderly patients). This can further lead to hypotension or low blood pressure and/or electrolyte imbalance.

Dehydration

Severe diarrhea on its own can cause dehydration, but the risk increases if you experience watery stool with fever. This is because the higher your temperature is, the more dehydrated you may become. If you observe signs of dehydration, go to the hospital right away.

Signs of dehydration in infants and young children:

  • Dry mouth
  • Absence of tears
  • Dry diaper for 3 hours
  • Sunken eyes, cheeks, and top of the skull
  • Irritability

Signs of dehydration in adults:

  • Dark-colored urine and infrequent urination
  • Severe thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

Finally, while you can take oral rehydration solutions (ORS) as a first aid for dehydration, it may not apply to those who cannot keep their fluids down.

Key Takeaways

Most of the time, we experience fever and diarrhea separately. If they occur together, it may indicate a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection. Moreover, it may also be indicative of an inflammatory bowel disease. However, don’t forget that you may suffer from watery stool with fever because of two unrelated conditions that occur at the same time.

For instance, you may eat something that upsets your tummy and develop diarrhea just as you contract the common cold and have a fever.

The best course of action, as always, is to set an appointment with your doctor. Also, if you experience severe symptoms such as dehydration or hypotension, seek medical attention immediately.

Learn more about Diarrhea here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Mar 08
Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, M.D.
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