Diarrhea

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Definition

Everyone occasionally has diarrhea loose, watery and more-frequent bowel movements. You might also have abdominal cramps and produce a greater volume of stool. Diarrhea varies in specific symptoms, severity and duration.

Acute diarrhea, which lasts from two days to two weeks, is typically caused by a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection of some sort.

Chronic diarrhea lasts longer than does acute diarrhea, generally more than four weeks. Chronic diarrhea can indicate a serious disorder, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, or a less serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Causes

Acute diarrhea causes may include:

  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhea
  • C. difficile infection
  • Cryptosporidium infection
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection
  • E. coli
  • Food intolerances
  • Food poisoning
  • Fructose intolerance
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Giardiasis (Giardia infection)
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Norovirus infection
  • Medicines, such as antacids containing magnesium and some cancer treatments
  • Rotavirus
  • Salmonella infection
  • Shigella infection
  • Stomach surgery
  • Traveler’s diarrhea

Chronic diarrhea causes may include:

  • Celiac disease
  • Colon cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Medications used to treat heartburn, such as proton pump inhibitors and H2 receptor antagonists
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Whipple’s disease

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