Diarrhea is defined as loose stool, typically more than three times a day. Acute diarrhea often lasts one to two days and is self limited without any treatment. Prolonged diarrhea may persist for more than 2 days may be suggestive a more concerning problem. Chronic diarrhea is frequent loose stool that persists over a prolonged period of time and may be related to an underlying chronic problem. Diarrhea may lead to dehydration in which the body lacks enough fluid to function properly.
Acute diarrhea is typically related to an infectious cause such as bacterial, viral or parasitic. Chronic diarrhea may be related to a condition such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.
Diarrhea is typically not dangerous, but may become a more serious problem in certain circumstances. Patients should consult their doctor if they experience any of the following: severe abdominal pain, fever above 102F associated with diarrhea, blood in stool, and signs of dehydration such as weakness and dizziness.
Most cases of diarrhea may be treated with replacement of fluids orally to prevent dehydration, IV fluids may be used if necessary. Antibiotics may be used in the setting of identifiable infection, anti-diarrheal medications may be used in certain circumstances.