Diarrhea is a symptom, not a disease. It is defined as passing frequent loose stools. The acute form lasts only a day or two and usually isn’t serious, but it can be linked with some other problems. It affects people of all ages, and some types are infectious. The average person may get acute diarrhea 3 to 5 times a year, and long-term effects are rare. Children under 5 years of age experience about 1 to 3 episodes of diarrhea every year.

Chronic diarrhea lasts longer than 2 weeks or shows up as repeated episodes of diarrhea lasting less than 2 weeks each. An inflammatory bowel condition such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may be to blame. Children and infants with diarrhea should be seen by a doctor.


People get diarrhea when the feces move too quickly through the bowels so that the intestines don’t have enough time to pull water from the waste to “firm it up.”

People get diarrhea for many reasons, including:
• not digesting food completely – for example, some people can’t digest lactose, the sugar found in milk, while others may not be able to digest or absorb fat or carbohydrates
• certain intestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
• bacterial and viral infections such as salmonella or rotavirus, the most common cause of transient diarrhea in children
• intestinal parasites, especially when traveling
• certain medications, such as blood pressure medications, those containing magnesium and others
• radiation or chemotherapy
• an overactive thyroid gland

In functional bowel disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, the muscles that normally move waste along the intestine can spasm, causing diarrhea. If you think that a medication you’re taking is causing the problem, don’t stop taking it without talking to your doctor. Diarrhea isn’t always due to things that are eaten or swallowed – emotional stress or turmoil can also bring it on.


Your stool will be loose and watery. You may suffer from abdominal cramping, nausea, or bloat. You may even have a fever, along with chills. If you’ve had diarrhea for a few days, you may feel lightheaded or weak. This comes from rapidly losing the minerals, sugar, and water that your body needs. Normally, diarrhea won’t cause you to lose control of your bowels – if this happens, you should consult your doctor.

You may also notice that you’re urinating less. This is because your body is losing water through bowel movements instead of urine. If diarrhea lasts longer than 48 hours or you have a fever of 38.5ºC or higher or have severe abdominal pain or vomiting that prevents fluid replacement by mouth, see a doctor immediately. Acute diarrhea accompanied by fever and stools with blood can be signs of a potentially dangerous infection or parasite. Always consult a doctor for a child with diarrhea who hasn’t urinated for 6 hours – the child could be dangerously dehydrated.

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