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Diarrhea is one of the most common health complaints. It can range from a mild, temporary condition to a potentially life threatening one.

If you have diarrhea, you will typically experience loose, watery stools and feel the urgent need to have a bowel movement multiple times a day. Diarrhea can be acute or chronic.

Acute diarrhea occurs when the condition lasts for 1 to 2 days. You might experience diarrhea due to a viral or bacterial infection you acquired via something you ate or drank.

Chronic diarrhea refers to having diarrhea on most days for longer than 3 to 4 weeks. Some common causes of chronic diarrhea include:

What causes diarrhea?

Diarrhea may be caused by many things, including:

Many people get traveler’s diarrhea. This happens when you have food or water that is not safe because of bacteria, parasites, and even food poisoning.

Severe diarrhea may mean you have a serious disease. See your healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t go away or if they keep you from doing your daily activities. It may be hard to find out what is causing your diarrhea.

What are the symptoms of diarrhea?

Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms of diarrhea may include:

Dehydration is a serious side effect of diarrhea. Symptoms include:

Diarrhea symptoms may look like other health problems.  Bloody diarrhea is always a concern. Always see your doctor to be sure. Be sure to tell the doctor about any bleeding, fever, or vomiting.

How is diarrhea diagnosed?

To see if you have diarrhea, your healthcare provider will give you a physical exam and ask about your past health. You may also have lab tests to check your blood and urine.

Other tests may include:

How is diarrhea treated?

Your healthcare provider will make a care plan for you based on:

In most cases you will need to replace the fluids you have lost.

You may also need a medicine that fights infection (antibiotic) if a bacterial infection is causing your diarrhea.

Complications of diarrhea

If your diarrhea is not treated you are at risk for dehydration. Severe dehydration can lead to organ damage, shock, and fainting (loss of consciousness) or coma.

Can diarrhea be prevented?

Having good personal habits can keep you from getting diarrhea caused by bacteria or a virus. It is important to:

When you are traveling, make sure anything you eat and drink is safe. This is even more important if you travel to developing countries.

Travel safety tips for water and other liquids include:

Travel safety tips for food include:

Living with diarrhea

In most cases diarrhea is a short-term problem. Often it only lasts for a few days. Be sure to take plenty of liquids when you’re having a bout of diarrhea.

Some health problems can make diarrhea last longer or keep coming back. These include inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. If another health problem is causing your diarrhea, follow your healthcare provider’s advice for treating that problem.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if:

Key points about diarrhea

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

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