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Mild, Moderate, or Severe Diarrhea

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Topic Overview

Diarrhea is described as an increase in the frequency of bowel movements or a decrease in the consistency of stools that causes the discharge of watery, loose stools. The severity of diarrhea is determined by the size and number of stools passed within a period of time.

  • Severe diarrhea means having more than 10 loose, watery stools in a single day (24 hours).
  • Moderate diarrhea means having more than a few but not more than 10 diarrhea stools in a day.
  • Mild diarrhea means having a few diarrhea stools in a day.

Severe diarrhea has many causes. Stomach flu (gastroenteritis) or food poisoning may cause severe diarrhea. Drinking untreated water that contains the Giardia lamblia parasite can cause diarrhea that develops 1 to 4 weeks later.

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Severe diarrhea increases your risk of dehydration by causing your body to lose large amounts of fluid quickly. Be sure to increase your intake of fluids, such as water or a rehydration drink, and to watch for symptoms of dehydration.

Persistent diarrhea can have many causes, including dietary changes, stress, irritable bowel syndrome, and certain medicines. Occasionally, persistent diarrhea can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as a chronic infection, inflammatory bowel disease, a malabsorption syndrome, or colorectal cancer.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 21, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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