Diarrhea means having a loose, watery stool during a bowel movement. It’s common in both children and adults and usually goes away on its own within a few days. If it doesn’t improve or if you’re experiencing other symptoms like a fever or bloody stool, reach out to a provider to get the treatment (and relief) you need.

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea means having a loose or watery stool (poop). It’s so common that most people flinch when they hear the word. The thought of thin, sickly-looking poop in the toilet bowl never stops feeling unpleasant. If you have diarrhea, not knowing what’s causing it or how long it’ll last only adds stress to the unpleasant feelings.

The good news is that diarrhea is usually mild (only a few bathroom trips a day) and goes away within a few days.

Sometimes, though, diarrhea is a sign of a serious condition. It can cause you to lose too much fluid (dehydration) or prevent you from getting enough nutrients. It’s important to know what to look out for so you know when to see a healthcare provider about diarrhea and when to wait it out.

Types of diarrhea

Diarrhea goes by different names depending on how long it lasts:

  • Acute diarrhea: Acute diarrhea is loose, watery diarrhea that lasts one to two days. It’s the most common type and usually goes away without treatment.
  • Persistent diarrhea: Persistent diarrhea lasts about two to four weeks.
  • Chronic diarrhea: Chronic diarrhea lasts more than four weeks or comes and goes regularly over a long period. Diarrhea that lasts this long may indicate a more serious condition that warrants a visit with your healthcare provider.

How common is diarrhea?

It’s incredibly common and affects people of all ages. Most adults get acute diarrhea once a year, while children tend to get it twice a year.

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