Diarrhea is loose, watery, or frequent stools. A person with diarrhea typically passes stool more than three times a day. Acute diarrhea is a common problem that usually lasts less than 2 weeks and goes away on its own without any special treatment. Prolonged diarrhea, persisting more than 2 weeks, or diarrhea accompanied by a fever, bleeding, dehydration, or pain may be a sign of a more serious problem.
Frequent or loose stools
Risk factors for developing diarrhea include:
- Lactose intolerance
- Diet, including inadequate fiber intake or food intolerances
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
- Other medical problems or medications
When to See a Doctor
Occasional abdominal distress such as cramping, bloating or diarrhea may result from a number of causes and often resolve on their own. If your symptoms seem severe, have not resolved within a few days, or if they persist or recur, it’s time for a thorough evaluation and consultation with a specialist.
Treatment options for individuals with diarrhea vary and may include the following:
- Hydration (replacing lost fluids)
- Over-the-counter or prescription medications or a combination
- Treatment of any underlying medical conditions
The foremost diagnostic “test” for any condition is a thorough exam and consultation with a physician, including a review of your individual and family history. In addition, your physician may recommend any of the following tests or procedures, which may provide further diagnostic value:
- Biopsy, if needed (can be performed in conjunction with other procedures)
- Blood tests
- Stool tests
People of all ages can get diarrhea, and the average adult has a bout of acute diarrhea about four times a year. Frequent hand washing will reduce your chances of contracting a viral infection which is the most common cause of diarrhea in the U.S. People with food intolerances or other digestive diseases may make diet or lifestyle changes.
Learn more about diarrhea with resources from the National Institutes of Health.