Definition & Facts
Diarrhea is loose, watery stools three or more times a day. Diarrhea may be acute, persistent, or chronic. Acute diarrhea is more common than persistent or chronic diarrhea. Complications of diarrhea are dehydration and malabsorption.
Symptoms & Causes
The main symptom of diarrhea is passing loose, watery stools three or more times a day. You may also have other symptoms. Causes of diarrhea include infections, food allergies and intolerances, digestive tract problems, and side effects of medicines.
If you have diarrhea for less than 4 days, your doctor typically won’t need to find the cause. If your diarrhea lasts longer or if you have other symptoms, your doctor may use your medical and family history, a physical exam, or tests to find the cause.
In most cases, you can treat your diarrhea with over-the-counter medicines and by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. Doctors may treat some causes of diarrhea with prescription medicines.
Eating, Diet, & Nutrition
If you have diarrhea, you may lose your appetite. When your appetite returns, you can go back to eating your normal diet. Parents and caretakers should give children with diarrhea their usual diet and give infants breast milk or formula.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.