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What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is when you have watery stool. It can be very soft runny stool or almost completely liquid. It’s an extremely common symptom of viral illnesses, like stomach bugs. It usually resolves on its own without treatment.
Mild, temporary diarrhea usually lasts 1–7 days. You may have two to eight loose to watery bowel movements per day. This type of diarrhea is very common and usually does not require a visit to the doctor. The most common causes of mild diarrhea are viral infections of the small intestine and food poisoning.
Severe diarrhea is defined as more than 10 watery bowel movements each day. If you have difficulty drinking enough fluids to make up for the fluids that have been lost, you can become dehydrated. You may also have blood or pus in the bowel movements (dysentery).
The usual causes of severe diarrhea are infections, although inflammatory bowel disease, some tumors, and pancreatic insufficiency (in which the pancreas does not make enough digestive enzymes) are occasional causes.
If you have severe diarrhea, your doctor is likely to take a stool sample to test for infection with bacteria or parasites. If you are dehydrated, you will receive oral rehydration solutions or intravenous solutions of salt water. For milder diarrhea you can try home remedies.
Call a doctor if you have diarrhea and any of the following apply:
- You have black or bloody bowel movements.
- You have pus in your bowel movements.
- You have abdominal pain and cramps that are not relieved by having a bowel movement.
- You are dehydrated (your mouth feels dry and you are thirsty and weak).
- You have a fever above 101°F with chills and vomiting.
- You have traveled to a foreign country recently and the diarrhea started while you were there or within a week of returning.
- You are taking medicine for another condition and your diarrhea has persisted for more than 4 weeks (diarrhea may be a side effect of the medicine).
- Your diarrhea lasts more than 1 week.
- You are taking immune-suppressing medicine.