Diarrhea is loose, watery, or more frequent stools (poop). Although it can be upsetting, diarrhea is rarely dangerous and usually goes away in a few days.
Diarrhea can be a symptom of many conditions, including common infections due to viruses (like viral gastroenteritis, or "stomach flu"), bacteria, or parasites. It's often accompanied by cramping belly pain — and, sometimes, nausea, vomiting, fever, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
Other causes of diarrhea include food allergies, lactose intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis), celiac disease, and certain medications.
Most cases of diarrhea go away in a few days with care at home, rest, and plenty of fluids. In some cases, particularly in infants, diarrhea can lead to dehydration that requires treatment with IV fluids and sometimes hospitalization. Diarrhea, especially if it lasts more than 2 weeks or keeps happening, also can be a symptom of an underlying medical problem that needs further evaluation.
The most common infectious causes of diarrhea are highly contagious and easily transmitted through dirty hands, contaminated food or water, and contact with dirty diapers or the toilet.
Washing hands well and often is the best way to help prevent spreading infection. Everyone in your family should wash their hands after using the bathroom and before eating.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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