Health A-Z


Clinical Definition

Diarrhea is the frequent discharge of loose bowel movements consisting of semisolid or fluid fecal matter. Diarrhea has many potential causes and may be acute or chronic.

In Our Own Words

Diarrhea, sometimes called ”the runs,” is a watery, loose stool that can be a nuisance due to frequent trips to the toilet. Clinically, diarrhea is sometimes defined as three or more loose watery stools in a day. It’s often caused by a viral infection in the bowel that clears up in a few days, but certain foods, food allergies, medications and radiation therapy can also trigger diarrhea.

Diarrhea is a common development in many diseases that affect the gastrointestinal tract, and when it lasts more than a few weeks, it’s defined as chronic. Chronic diarrhea can have many causes, commonly including irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, lactose intolerance and celiac disease. Chronic infections may also cause diarrhea, especially in immunocompromised (i.e., having an impaired immune system) people. Treatments vary, depending on the cause of diarrhea.

In developing countries, acute diarrhea takes many lives due to its severely dehydrating nature.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Abdominal bloating or cramps
  • Watery, loose stool
  • Blood in stool
  • Weight loss
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