Diarrhea is characterized by loose or watery stools. Diarrhea is a symptom of an underlying health problem, such as an infection, that prevents the intestines from properly absorbing nutrients from food.
Acute diarrhea lasts a few days and affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives. Chronic diarrhea generally lasts longer than four weeks and may be a sign of a serious condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or gastroenteritis. These disorders are long-term conditions that cause inflammation of the digestive tract.
There are many potential causes of diarrhea. Some of the most common include gastrointestinal infections, lactose intolerance, medications, artificial sweeteners, and surgery. Sometimes diarrhea is a symptom of an underlying gastrointestinal disorder, such as IBD.
Dehydration is a common complication of diarrhea. Dehydration is especially dangerous in infants, young children, and older adults.
Researchers estimate that there are nearly 100 million cases of acute diarrhea per year in adults in the United States. It is estimated that children younger than five years old experience one episode of diarrhea per year in the United States. About 222,000 people are admitted to the hospital each year for complications related to diarrhea. About 400 people die each year due to complications, such as severe dehydration, in the United States.
Diarrhea usually requires little to no medical treatment, but anti-diarrheal medications may help reduce symptoms. If an infection is causing diarrhea, antibiotics are prescribed to treat the infection.
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