What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the passage of loose, watery stools and/or having bowel movements more frequently than usual. Diarrhea is a common digestive symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions.

Diarrhea occurs in all age groups and populations. Depending on the cause, diarrhea can be short term (acute) and disappear relatively quickly, such as when it occurs with viral gastroenteritis. Diarrhea can also be continuous or recurring over a longer period of time (chronic), such as when it occurs with inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Diarrhea can range in severity from mild and self limiting to serious and life threatening.

Diarrhea that is associated with bloody stool, rectal bleeding, vomiting blood, dizziness, fainting, or severe pain can be a symptom of a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Call 911 if you, or someone you are with, are exhibiting any of these symptoms. If your diarrhea persists for more than five days or otherwise causes you concern, contact a medical professional to discuss your symptoms.


What other symptoms might occur with diarrhea?

Diarrhea may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms frequently affect the digestive tract but may also affect other body systems.

Digestive symptoms that may occur along with diarrhea

Diarrhea may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive tract including:


What causes diarrhea?

Diarrhea occurs when fluid you take in by mouth, or fluid produced in your gastrointestinal tract, is not properly absorbed. Normally, the intestines absorb excessive water from food during the digestive process. When food moves too fast, the intestines cannot absorb water, resulting in loose stools. Diarrhea can also occur when excessive water moves into the bowel from the body.

... Read more about diarrheacauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Did You Know?

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. In fact, it's estimated that as many as 20 percent of adults have symptoms of IBS.