Diarrhea describes bowel movements (stools) that are loose and watery. It is very common and usually not serious. Many people will have diarrhea once or twice each year. It typically lasts two to three days and can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Some people often have diarrhea as part of irritable bowel syndrome or other chronic diseases of the large intestine.
Doctors classify diarrhea as "osmotic," "secretory," or "exudative."
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Osmotic diarrhea means that something in the bowel is drawing water from the body. A common example is sorbitol, a sugar substitute found in sugarless candy and gum that isn't absorbed by the body but draws water into the bowel, resulting in diarrhea.
Secretory diarrhea occurs when the body is releasing water into the bowel. Many infections, drugs, and other conditions cause secretory diarrhea.
Contact your doctor if you have prolonged diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, or a fever that lasts more than 24 hours. Also see your doctor promptly if vomiting prevents you from drinking liquids to replace lost fluids.