Doctors usually define diarrhea as a significant increase in the total weight of stool passed in a single day. Most people, however, think of diarrhea as an illness during which they have more frequent, loose, watery stools.
Almost everyone has diarrhea at some point in his or her life. In developing countries, where illnesses that cause diarrhea are more common and where health care is less readily available, diarrhea is a major health concern because of its potential to cause severe, life-threatening dehydration. Infants and the elderly are more prone to dehydration from diarrhea.
Diarrhea that comes on suddenly and goes away over a period of a couple of weeks is usually referred to as "acute diarrhea." Most people with acute diarrhea recover on their own. Diarrhea that lasts more than four weeks is thought of as "chronic diarrhea." Typically, chronic diarrhea requires medical care to find the underlying cause and treat complications, such as dehydration.
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