Diarrhea, also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having at least three loose, liquid, or watery bowel movements each day. It often lasts for a few days and can result in dehydration due to fluid loss. Signs of dehydration often begin with loss of the normal stretchiness of the skin and irritable behaviour. This can progress to decreased urination, loss of skin color, a fast heart rate, and a decrease in responsiveness as it becomes more severe. Loose but non-watery stools in babies who are exclusively breastfed, however, are normal.
The most common cause is an infection of the intestines due to either a virus, bacterium, or parasite—a condition also known as gastroenteritis. These infections are often acquired from food or water that has been contaminated by feces, or directly from another person who is infected. The three types of diarrhea are: short duration watery diarrhea, short duration bloody diarrhea, and persistent diarrhea (lasting more than two weeks, which can be either watery or bloody). The short duration watery diarrhea may be due to cholera, although this is rare in the developed world. If blood is present, it is also known as dysentery. A number of non-infectious causes can result in diarrhea. These include lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis, hyperthyroidism, bile acid diarrhea, and a number of medications. In most cases, stool cultures to confirm the exact cause are not required.
Diarrhea can be prevented by improved sanitation, clean drinking water, and hand washing with soap. Breastfeeding for at least six months and vaccination against rotavirus is also recommended. Oral rehydration solution (ORS)—clean water with modest amounts of salts and sugar—is the treatment of choice. Zinc tablets are also recommended. These treatments have been estimated to have saved 50 million children in the past 25 years. When people have diarrhea it is recommended that they continue to eat healthy food and babies continue to be breastfed. If commercial ORS is not available, homemade solutions may be used. In those with severe dehydration, intravenous fluids may be required. Most cases, however, can be managed well with fluids by mouth. Antibiotics, while rarely used, may be recommended in a few cases such as those who have bloody diarrhea and a high fever, those with severe diarrhea following travelling, and those who grow specific bacteria or parasites in their stool. Loperamide may help decrease the number of bowel movements but is not recommended in those with severe disease.
About 1.7 to 5 billion cases of diarrhea occur per year. It is most common in developing countries, where young children get diarrhea on average three times a year. Total deaths from diarrhea are estimated at 1.53 million in 2019—down from 2.9 million in 1990. In 2012, it was the second most common cause of deaths in children younger than five (0.76 million or 11%). Frequent episodes of diarrhea are also a common cause of malnutrition and the most common cause in those younger than five years of age. Other long term problems that can result include stunted growth and poor intellectual development.
Non-infectious (catarrhal) diarrhoea is such a common condition that everyone has had it at some time or another. However, generalized diarrhoea (particularly infectious forms) is the chief symptom of several serious diseases and is a major cause of death in the world.
Diarrhoea is a change in a normal stool pattern in which the stool becomes more frequent and less formed, sometimes fluid. It can occur by itself or along with abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea, vomiting and fever. When diarrhoea occurs, the normal function of the intestine is disrupted. Instead of absorbing fluids and nutrients from the material passing through, it reverses that process and secretes body fluids back into itself and passes them out of the body.