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What is Acute Diarrhea?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2016
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When a person has an increase in stools and his stools are loose and watery, he is said to have diarrhea. If a person has these loose, watery stools, often more than three times on a given day, and these symptoms last for less than two weeks, the frequent stools are typically referred to as acute diarrhea. Often, acute diarrhea is caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or parasites, and the patient may need to let the infection run its course without medical treatment. In some cases, however, symptoms may be severe or even dangerous, and a patient may need treatment with prescription medication or intravenous (IV) fluids.

For many people, having more than one bowel movement per day is normal; some people have bowel movements up to three times a day, for example. While an individual may think he has diarrhea if he passes stools this often, he may be mistaken if his stools are of normal consistency. Typically, diarrhea is defined as watery, soft-consistency bowel movements that occur more than three times in one day. If a person normally passes stools three times a week, however, and he suddenly passes two watery stools in one day, this may be considered diarrhea as well. If an individual’s loose stools last for two weeks or less, he is typically said to have acute diarrhea.

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In most cases, a person who has acute diarrhea develops it because his body has been infected with a virus or bacterium. Sometimes parasitic infections cause acute diarrhea as well. In most cases, a person can expect acute diarrhea to taper off after a day or two as the body fights the invader that has caused it. In fact, most people don’t need any medical intervention to recover from it. After a couple of days, a person’s stools usually return to normal on their own.

If acute diarrhea lasts for more than a couple of days, the patient may be at risk for dehydration. To prevent this, people are often advised to consume liquids that help replace vital minerals and salts, called electrolytes, lost through diarrhea. In fact, a person may even buy electrolyte drinks and ice pops that are designed specifically for this purpose. If despite these efforts an individual becomes dehydrated, he may need to be hospitalized for treatment. Often, this involves the administering of fluids through an IV.

Sometimes acute diarrhea is severe or lasts more than a few days. In such a case, a doctor may need to treat the patient with prescription medication. For example, antibiotics may be prescribed for the treatment of some infections that cause acute diarrhea. There are also medications that can be used to stop diarrhea, but they often prolong the infection that caused the symptoms. As such, doctors are less likely to prescribe them.

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