Antibiotic-associated diarrhea refers to passing loose, watery stools three or more times a day after taking medications used to treat bacterial infections (antibiotics).
Most often, antibiotic-associated diarrhea is mild and requires no treatment. The diarrhea typically clears up within a few days after you stop taking the antibiotic. More-serious antibiotic-associated diarrhea might require stopping or switching antibiotic medications.
For most people, antibiotic-associated diarrhea causes mild signs and symptoms, such as:
Antibiotic-associated diarrhea is likely to begin about a week after you start taking an antibiotic. Sometimes, however, diarrhea and other symptoms don't appear until days or even weeks after you've finished antibiotic treatment.
C. difficile is a toxin-producing bacteria that causes antibiotic-associated colitis, which can occur after the antibiotic therapy upsets the balance of good and bad bacteria in your intestinal tract.
Besides loose stools, C. difficile infection can cause:
Call your doctor right away if you have serious signs and symptoms of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. These signs and symptoms are common to a number of conditions, so your doctor might recommend tests to determine the cause.
Why antibiotic-associated diarrhea occurs isn't completely understood. It's commonly thought to develop when antibacterial medications (antibiotics) upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract.
Nearly all antibiotics can cause antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Antibiotics most commonly involved include:
To diagnose antibiotic-associated diarrhea, your doctor is likely to question you about your health history, including whether you've had recent antibiotic treatments.
One of the most common complications of any type of diarrhea is extreme loss of fluids and electrolytes (dehydration). Severe dehydration can be life-threatening. Signs and symptoms include a very dry mouth, intense thirst, little or no urination, and weakness.
To help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea, try to:
To cope with diarrhea:
Drink enough fluids. To counter a mild loss of fluids from diarrhea, drink more water. For a more-severe loss, drink fluids that contain water, sugar and salt. Try broth or watered fruit juice. Avoid beverages that are high in sugar or contain alcohol or caffeine, such as coffee, tea and colas, which can worsen your symptoms.
For infants and children with diarrhea, ask your doctor about using an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte, to replenish fluids and electrolytes.
Consider taking probiotics. Microorganisms such as acidophilus help restore a healthy balance to the intestinal tract by boosting the level of good bacteria. Probiotics are available in capsule or liquid form and are also added to some foods, such as certain brands of yogurt.
Studies confirm that some probiotics might be helpful in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea. However, further research is needed to better understand which strains of bacteria are most helpful or what doses are needed.
Antibiotic-associated diarrhea can occur in anyone who takes an antibiotic. But you're more likely to develop antibiotic-associated diarrhea if you: