What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is frequent, loose and runny stool. Diarrhea is common and can be caused by a variety of things, including viral infection and foods that irritate the stomach. Diarrhea is considered chronic if it continues for more than 4 weeks. It can be caused by foods that irritate the stomach, as diarrhea results from the body's attempt to rid the stomach of the irritant. Greasy, high-fat and fried foods commonly cause diarrhea.
Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Diarrhea is a condition of having three or more liquid bowel movements in a day. It results in the loss of body fluids and can result in dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. There are a number of causes of diarrhea including viruses, bacteria, food intolerance or allergies, medications, malabsorption, intestinal diseases, laxative abuse and other factors. Some diarrhea may function as an expulsion defense mechanism to rid the body of the causative organism. Therefore the use of medications to stop the diarrhea needs to be evaluated in each situation. The primary treatment of diarrhea is replacing the lost fluids and electrolytes  primarily by oral rehydration therapy. In severe cases intravenous rehydration is necessary. Good hand-washing after using the bathroom is essential to prevent re-contamination of self or others.

Dr. Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Diarrhea is the excretion of extra fluid with a bowel movement. Diarrhea is usually a mild, temporary event. However, it may also be the first suggestion of a serious underlying disease or infection.

Diarrhea typically presents with loose or watery bowel movements that may be accompanied by undigested food or mucus. Urgency to defecate and lower abdominal pain can also occur with diarrhea. If an infection is present, there may also be a fever. 

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Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the looseness and number of bowel movements (BMs) or stools. It has many causes. The most common cause is a virus.

  • Diarrhea can be mild (a few loose or mushy stools) to severe (constant watery stools).
  • A green stool is from the very quick passage of contents through the stomach and intestines.

Diarrhea is when you have loose, watery stool (poop). With diarrhea, you have to go to the bathroom more often. Sometimes it's hard to get there in time. Diarrhea is uncomfortable but usually not serious. Sometimes you may need to see a doctor, though.

You may have these symptoms:

  • Loose, watery stools (poop)
  • Cramps or pain in your abdomen (belly)
  • Fever
  • Upset stomach or throwing up

Diarrhea can make your body lose too much fluid. In this case, you may not urinate (pee) very much. You might also have dry skin or a dry mouth. Babies are more likely to have this problem.

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

Diarrhea refers to frequent watery and loose feces. It results when your intestines do not absorb the moisture from your foods. Diarrhea can result from a variety of different causes.

Certain viruses like the Norwalk virus, viral hepatitis, cytomegalovirus, or the Rotavirus can cause diarrhea, especially in children. Bacteria and parasites found in contaminated food and water can lead to the development of this condition. If you have trouble digesting fructose, lactose, or artificial sweeteners you may experience diarrhea. Certain surgeries and medications may be responsible for your diarrhea. Finally, digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease can lead to chronic diarrhea.

Dr. Lawrence S. Friedman, MD

Most everyone has had a bout of the runs from eating tainted food or drinking unclean water. But some people experience the frequent, runny bowel movements of diarrhea for no apparent reason. Although diarrhea can accompany a number of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, both functional and organic, it may occur on its own, intermittently or constantly, for reasons that are not always identifiable.

Diarrhea is sometimes defined as having more than three bowel movements a day. But a more widely accepted definition of diarrhea is liquid or watery stools. When diarrhea occurs more than three-quarters of the time and lasts at least three months without an identifiable cause, the diarrhea is said to be functional.

Diarrhea is the body's response to something that upsets the intestines; it's the body's way of clearing out whatever is causing the upset. Sometimes you know exactly what caused the intestinal distress -- for example, bacterial contamination in food. Other times, it remains a mystery.

In most cases, the problem will clear on its own, and you may not need to call a doctor. Diarrhea usually isn't serious, but it can lead to dehydration and weight loss. And while everybody experiences diarrhea sometimes, for a significant percentage of the population, the condition is persistent. Cases that don't clear up in a few days require a doctor's care.

According to the Rome III criteria for a diagnosis of diarrhea, patients must have experienced the following for the past three months, with symptoms starting at least six months before diagnosis:

  • loose (mushy) or watery stools without pain occurring in at least three-quarters of stools.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.