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Can you have a stomach virus that’s just diarrhea?

Diarrhea that occurs by itself, without other symptoms like vomiting or fever, can have several possible causes. While some types of stomach viruses may cause diarrhea alone, other conditions like food poisoning, medications, or chronic illnesses can also lead to isolated diarrhea.

What is a stomach virus?

A stomach virus, also known as viral gastroenteritis, is an intestinal infection caused by viruses that results in inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Symptoms commonly include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches

Stomach viruses are very contagious and can spread through contaminated food or water, contact with an infected person, or contact with contaminated surfaces. Viruses that can cause gastroenteritis include norovirus, rotavirus, adenovirus, and astrovirus.

Can a stomach virus cause diarrhea without other symptoms?

In most cases, stomach viruses cause several symptoms in combination. However, some viruses may occasionally lead to diarrhea as the main or only symptom, without other accompanying problems.

Two examples include:

  • Norovirus: This is one of the most common causes of viral gastroenteritis. While norovirus classically causes vomiting and diarrhea, some people may experience only watery diarrhea.
  • Rotavirus: This virus is a common cause of diarrhea in infants and young children. Rotavirus can cause severe watery diarrhea, occasionally without vomiting or fever.

So in summary, while uncommon, some viruses like norovirus and rotavirus can potentially cause isolated diarrhea or diarrhea as the predominant symptom.

What are other possible causes of diarrhea alone?

There are many possible medical conditions that can lead to diarrhea as the sole symptom without other problems like vomiting or abdominal pain. Some possibilities include:

Food poisoning

Consuming contaminated food containing pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites can cause food poisoning. Symptoms depend on the particular organism but may include watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramps, and fever. In some cases, diarrhea may be the only symptom.

Medication side effects

Many medications can cause diarrhea as a side effect. Some examples include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Medications with magnesium-containing antacids
  • Anti-hypertensive drugs like ACE inhibitors or calcium channel blockers
  • Some chemotherapy drugs
  • Miscellaneous drugs like antacids or laxatives

Chronic medical conditions

Some chronic illnesses may increase the risk of frequent loose stools and diarrhea. Examples include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis
  • Celiac disease
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Diverticulosis
  • Microscopic colitis
  • Colon cancer

Food intolerance

Food intolerances to substances like fructose, sorbitol, or gluten can also lead to diarrhea. This occurs because the body lacks enzymes to properly digest these compounds.

Stress and anxiety

Psychological stress and anxiety can increase gut spasms and motility. This can potentially lead to loose stools or diarrhea in some cases.

How long does virus-related diarrhea last?

The duration of diarrhea caused by a stomach virus can depend on:

  • The particular virus
  • The person’s age and health status
  • How much fluid replacement is given

In general:

  • Norovirus: 12 to 60 hours
  • Rotavirus: 3 to 8 days
  • Adenovirus: 5 to 12 days
  • Astrovirus: 1 to 4 days

Diarrhea lasting more than 2 weeks warrants medical evaluation, even if other symptoms like vomiting, pain, and fever are absent.

When to see a doctor

You should consult a doctor if you experience:

  • Diarrhea lasting more than 2 days
  • Bloody or black stool
  • Severe pain
  • High fever
  • Signs of dehydration like excessive thirst, infrequent urination, yellow urine, dry mouth, dizziness
  • Recent antibiotic use
  • Recent travel
  • Weakened immune system
  • Diarrhea not improving with over-the-counter medications

Seeking prompt medical care is especially important for infants, small children, older adults, pregnant women, and those with chronic medical conditions.

Diagnosing the cause of diarrhea

To diagnose the cause of diarrhea, the doctor may:

  • Ask about your symptoms and medical history
  • Perform a physical exam
  • Order blood tests or stool studies to look for infection
  • Do endoscopy procedures like colonoscopy (for chronic diarrhea)
  • Recommend eliminating certain foods to check for intolerances

Treatment for viral diarrhea

There is no specific medication that can cure viral gastroenteritis. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and preventing dehydration by:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids like water, broths, or electrolyte beverages
  • Getting rest
  • Eating bland, easy-to-digest foods like crackers, rice, applesauce, and bananas
  • Taking over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications like loperamide in some cases (not for children)

For chronic or severe diarrhea, the doctor may prescribe medications to treat the underlying condition, recommend dietary changes, or provide IV fluids if dehydrated.

Prevention tips

You can reduce your risk of viral and non-viral diarrhea through:

  • Frequent handwashing
  • Careful food preparation and storage
  • Avoiding contaminated water when travelling
  • Getting vaccines like the rotavirus vaccine
  • Taking probiotics
  • Eating yogurt with active cultures
  • Avoiding trigger foods if you have intolerances
  • Managing stress

Key Points

  • Stomach viruses like norovirus and rotavirus can sometimes cause diarrhea as the only or predominant symptom.
  • Other possible causes of isolated diarrhea include food poisoning, medications, chronic diseases, intolerances, and stress.
  • See a doctor for severe, bloody, or persistent diarrhea lasting over 2 weeks.
  • Treat viral diarrhea by staying hydrated and eating bland foods. Antibiotics are not effective.
  • Prevent diarrhea through hygiene, avoiding contaminants, vaccination, probiotics, and trigger avoidance.


While having diarrhea alone without other symptoms is less common, some viruses like norovirus and rotavirus can cause isolated diarrhea in some cases. However, many other conditions beyond viruses can also lead to diarrhea as the sole symptom. Seeing a doctor for a persistent issue can help determine the cause and appropriate treatment. With a focused history, testing, and treatment, diarrhea without other symptoms can often be effectively managed.