Diarrheal Illnesses (Acute and Chronic)

Unhealthy young woman with stomachache leaning on the bed at home.


Diarrheal Illnesses

A diarrheal illness is defined as having more than three loose liquid and watery stools per day. However it may also be defined by changes in consistency or frequency or pattern from a previous baseline. It is a common problem worldwide and often an underestimated cause of morbidity.  Most diarrheal illnesses are short lived, lasting for a few days, and typically self-resolve. This is commonly called acute diarrhea. Diarrhea that lasts for 2 weeks or longer is considered chronic diarrhea and may indicate a more serious gastroenterological disorder as well as various health conditions that may need further investigation and examination.  

If you have chronic diarrhea, it’s important you see your doctor for a full comprehensive evaluation for effective diagnosis and treatment.   

Various factors that may cause or lead to diarrhea may include:  

Diarrhea lasting longer than 2 weeks is considered chronic
  • Viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus 
  • Bacteria  
  • Parasites, such as giardia 
  • Medications, such as laxatives, antacids or antibiotics 
  • Lactose intolerance 
  • Diabetes 
  • Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease 
  • Chronic alcohol use  
  • Chronic use of artificial sweeteners 
  • Medical treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation 
  • Chronic gastrointestinal conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and numerous other conditions


Diarrheal Illnesses Symptoms

Symptoms of diarrhea are typically self-evident in the form of:

icon 17

More frequent bowel movements

with alternating diarrhea and constipation may be signs of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

icon 15

Changes in consistency  

may change from soft but solid and easy to pass, hard and difficult to pass (constipation), to loose and watery stools (diarrhea)

icon 13

Abdominal cramping or pain

Diarrhea may be accompanied by abdominal cramping or pain which may indicate a more serious condition

icon 24

Blood or mucous in the stool

This is typically a sign of more concerning condition which should be investigated


Diarrhea may also lead to dehydration which may cause headaches or fatigue  


Diarrheal Illnesses Diagnosis

Your doctor will take your medical history, review medications and do a physical exam.  Tests that may be ordered include: 

  • Blood tests 
  • Stool tests 
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy 
  • Colonoscopy
A doctor in a discussion with her patient


Diarrheal Illnesses Treatments

Most acute diarrhea from infections may resolve with time and rehydration and over counter anti-diarrheal medication and remedies.  Treatment and management of chronic diarrhea however will depend on the underlying cause which can be determined with consultation with your provider.  


Diarrheal Illnesses Specialists

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404