Definition and Facts

Diarrhea is a common digestive condition characterized by frequent, loose, or watery stool three or more times a day. Diarrhea may be acute, persistent, or chronic. Acute diarrhea is more common than persistent or chronic diarrhea. Complications of diarrhea are dehydration and malabsorption. Researchers estimate that about 179 million cases of acute diarrhea occur in the United States each year.


  • frequent, loose or watery stool
  • an urgent need to use the bathroom
  • abdominal cramping
  • loss of control of bowel movements
  • nausea
  • pain in the abdomen


Causes of diarrhea include infections, food allergies and intolerances, digestive tract problems, and side effects of medicines.


In most cases, you can treat your diarrhea with over-the-counter medicines and by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. Doctors may treat some causes of diarrhea with prescription medicines.

Eating, Diet and Nutrition

If you have diarrhea, you may lose your appetite. When your appetite returns, you can go back to eating your normal diet. Parents and caretakers should give children with diarrhea their usual diet and give infants breast milk or formula.


Kumkum Patel MD, MPH

Board-certified Gastroenterologist.
IBS and Motility Specialist

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