A person is considered to have diarrhea if he or she passes loose stools three or more times a day. Acute diarrhea lasts one or two days and goes away on its own. It is typically caused by a bacteria, virus or parasite. Diarrhea that persists for more than two days could be a sign of a more serious problem. Diarrhea that lasts for longer than four weeks is considered chronic and may be a symptom of another disease like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. Diarrhea may also lead to dehydration.
Acute diarrhea does not usually require any testing since it resolves on its own. But if diarrhea is persistent and is accompanied by other symptoms like fever or bloody stools, healthcare providers will attempt to determine its cause. Learning the person’s medical history, performing a physical exam, checking the stool for infectious causes, ordering blood tests, and performing colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy helps healthcare providers determine the underlying cause of diarrhea.
In most cases, the only treatment required is replacing lost fluids and electrolytes. For some patients, over-the-counter medications may help their symptoms resolve faster. If the cause of diarrhea is determined to be an infection, healthcare providers prescribe antibiotics in place of over-the-counter medications. Generally, the cause of diarrhea determines its treatment.