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Definition & Facts

Diarrhea is loose, watery stools 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.

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Symptoms & Causes

The main symptom of diarrhea is passing loose, watery stools three or more times a day. You may also have other symptoms. Causes of diarrhea include infections, food allergies and intolerances, digestive tract problems, and side effects of medicines.


If you have diarrhea for less than 4 days, your doctor typically won’t need to find the cause. If your diarrhea lasts longer or if you have other symptoms, your doctor may use your medical and family history, a physical exam, or tests to find the cause.


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, & 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.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

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Related Diagnostic Tests

Your Digestive System & How it Works

The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract-also called the digestive tract-and the liver, pancreas, and the gallbladder. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus.

Last Reviewed November 2016

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.