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What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is a common symptom of a gastrointestinal problem. It is characterized by frequent, loose stools and may be accompanied by stomach (abdominal) pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Sometimes there may be blood and/or mucus in the stool.

Diarrhea that lasts one to a few days is considered acute. Most adults experience several mild bouts of uncomplicated diarrhea each year, which are usually acute and end without requiring medical treatment. Diarrhea that lasts two to four weeks or longer is considered chronic. The diarrhea may come and go over this time or may be persistent.

Severe acute diarrhea and chronic diarrhea can be dangerous, especially to very young children and the elderly. When diarrhea is severe or persists for several weeks, it can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. When levels of electrolytes in the body become too high or too low, it can be life-threatening if untreated. Some individuals affected by diarrhea may require hospitalization. In infants, significant dehydration can occur within a day or two.

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