Diarrhea as a Clinical Challenge: General Practitioner Approach

Dig Dis. 2022;40(3):282-289. doi: 10.1159/000517111. Epub 2021 May 10.


Background: Diarrhea is defined as the passage of loose stools and increase in stool frequency, weight, or volume. Diarrhea is an important health issue since it accounts for 2.5 million deaths in the world each year.

Summary: Diarrhea can be acute, persistent, or chronic. Acute diarrhea (AD) is usually infectious, caused by viruses, less frequently by bacteria and parasites. The majority of cases of AD are self-limiting and do not require diagnostic workup. The use of diagnostic tests in AD should be limited to patients with signs of severe dehydration, bloody stools, persistent fever and those suffering from immunodeficiencies using immunosuppressive therapy or to cases of suspected nosocomial infection. These patients should be referred to gastroenterologists or infectious disease specialists. Therapy in AD consists of early oral refeeding, antidiarrheal medications, antibiotics, and probiotics. Chronic diarrhea (CD) has diverse etiology. The majority of patients have self-limiting symptoms or functional gastrointestinal disorders. Patients with blood in stool, weight loss, clinical and laboratory signs of anemia, and palpable mass in the abdomen (red flag symptoms) need urgent gastroenterology referral. Therapy in CD is possible when the underlying cause of symptoms is identified.

Key messages: The general practitioner should identify high-risk patients with AD and/or red flag symptoms for urgent gastroenterology referral.

Keywords: Acute diarrhea; Chronic diarrhea; Diagnosis; Etiology; Therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Diarrhea / drug therapy
  • Diarrhea / therapy
  • Feces
  • Gastroenterologists*
  • General Practitioners*
  • Humans


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents