By Mayo Clinic Staff
Everyone occasionally has diarrhea — loose, watery and more-frequent bowel movements. You might also have abdominal cramps and produce a greater volume of stool. Diarrhea varies in specific symptoms, severity and duration.
Acute diarrhea, which lasts from two days to two weeks, is typically caused by a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection of some sort.
Chronic diarrhea persists longer than does acute diarrhea, generally longer than four weeks. Chronic diarrhea can indicate a serious disorder, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, or a less serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Most cases of diarrhea resolve without treatment. However, severe diarrhea can cause dehydration, which can be life-threatening if untreated. Dehydration is particularly dangerous in children, older adults and those with weakened immune systems.
Seek medical attention for your child if:
- Diarrhea doesn't improve after 24 hours
- Hasn't had a wet diaper in three or more hours
- Has a fever of more than 102 F (39 C)
- Has bloody or black stools
- Has a dry mouth or tongue or cries without tears
- Is unusually sleepy, drowsy, unresponsive or irritable
- Has a sunken appearance to the abdomen, eyes or cheeks
- Has skin that doesn't flatten if pinched and released
Schedule a doctor's visit for yourself if:
- Your diarrhea lasts more than two days without improvement
- You become dehydrated — indicated by excessive thirst, dry mouth or skin, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness, or dark-colored urine
- You have severe abdominal or rectal pain
- You have bloody or black stools
- You have a fever of more than 102 F (39 C)
Sept. 02, 2016
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- Fleisher GR. Evaluation of diarrhea in children. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 27, 2016.
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- Litin SC (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 31, 2016.