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)
April 16, 2019
- Diarrhea. National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea. Accessed March 27, 2016.
- Diarrheal diseases: Acute and chronic. American College of Gastroenterology. http://patients.gi.org/topics/diarrhea-acute-and-chronic/. Accessed March 27, 2016.
- Fleisher GR. Evaluation of diarrhea in children. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed March 27, 2016.
- Biswall S. Proton pump inhibitors and risk for Clostridium difficile associated diarrhea. Biomedical Journal. 2014;37:178.
- Litin SC (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 31, 2016.