Everyone occasionally has diarrhea — loose, watery and more-frequent bowel movements. You might also have abdominal cramps and produce a greater volume of stool. The duration of diarrhea symptoms can provide a clue to the underlying cause.
Acute diarrhea lasts from 2 days to 2 weeks. Persistent diarrhea lasts 2 to 4 weeks. Acute and persistent diarrhea are typically caused by a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection of some sort.
Chronic diarrhea lasts longer than does acute or persistent 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.
Acute or persistent diarrhea causes may include:
Chronic diarrhea causes may include:
Some infections, such as giardia or C. difficile infection, may lead to chronic diarrhea if not treated.
Most cases of acute diarrhea resolve without treatment. However, severe diarrhea (greater than 10 bowel movements a day or diarrhea where fluid losses are significantly greater than oral intake) can cause dehydration, which can be life-threatening if untreated. Dehydration is particularly dangerous in children, older adults and those with weakened immune systems.