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 lasts longer than does acute diarrhea, generally more 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)
July 26, 2016