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What is Diarrhea

What Is Diarrhea: Your Digestive System and the Types of Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common health problem, and it can range from a temporary and mild condition to a chronic one.

What is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is considered the event of passing watery, loose stools 3 or more times in a day. When suffering from diarrhea, the digestion process becomes too fast to allow for the large intestine to absorb the excess liquid.

How Your Digestive System Works

To understand diarrhea, it is helpful to know more about your digestive system and how it works. This will help you appreciate what it means to upset the balance of your digestive health.

Your digestive system comprises the GI tract (or digestive tract), pancreas, liver and gallbladder. When your digestive system is in its normal rhythm, food and fluids pass from the stomach into the small intestine. Food is then broken down, and nutrients are absorbed along with most of the fluid. The remaining waste and some water pass into the colon (large intestine), where more water is absorbed. And finally, the waste is passed in the form of stools to complete a digestive system function.

Digestion matters to your health because your body requires the proper nutrients from what you consume in order to work well and remain healthy. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals, fats, carbs, protein and water. Within the digestive system, these nutrients are broken down into smaller parts to be absorbed and used for energy, cell repair and growth.

When the cells in your small intestine or colon are irritated, the relaxed and regular movement of your intestines can become overactive. Essential salts and fluids, as well as nutrients from the food that you eat, end up being passed through the colon too quickly. With less fluid being absorbed by the body, the result is loose or watery stools, which is more commonly known as diarrhea.

Types of Diarrhea

Types of diarrhea vary from mild and acute to persistent, chronic, and severe diarrhea2.

Acute Diarrhea

Acute diarrhea is a common issue and should not last more than 14 days. Like any type of diarrhea, it is defined by the sudden onset of loose stools 3 or more times a day.

Other symptoms that can accompany acute diarrhea include cramps, fever, vomiting, fatigue and nausea3. Viruses (viral gastroenteritis) and bacteria are often identified as the cause of most cases of acute diarrhea. In children, the most common virus leading to acute diarrhea is rotavirus while norovirus is more common in adults1.

Chronic or Persistent Diarrhea

While acute diarrhea should not last more than 14 days, chronic or persistent diarrhea lasts longer than two weeks and can last up to four weeks. It is defined as an episode in which diarrhea symptoms may come and go or remain throughout the episode. Unlike acute diarrhea which is only an inconvenience, chronic diarrhea can substantially impact your overall health and quality of life4.

Persistent or chronic diarrhea can lead to malnutrition, abdominal pain, and weight loss. Some of the signs you should look out for are sudden weight loss, blood in the stools or sleepless nights due to constant restroom visits5. Malabsorption syndromes in which food cannot be digested and absorbed are common causes of chronic diarrhea. Some other prevalent causes include inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)4.

You should consult your healthcare professional if symptoms get worse, diarrhea lasts for more than two days, you have a fever, or blood or mucus in your stools, as these may be signs of a serious condition.

Diarrhea Severity

Finally, diarrhea can also be identified in terms of its severity, from mild to moderate to severe diarrhea. The number of stools and their size can help define its severity6:

  • Severe diarrhea is having more than ten watery stools in 24 hours
  • Moderate diarrhea is having many loose stools in a day, but not more than ten times
  • Mild diarrhea means having only a few loose and watery stools in a day

How Can IMODIUM® Help?

While many people believe that mild or acute diarrhea should be left untreated, doing so can lead to unwanted repercussions. You can use an antidiarrheal medication that contains Loperamide, like IMODIUM® products, to treat mild or acute diarrhea lasting no longer than two days8. IMODIUM® helps restore the gut’s natural rhythm, enabling it to start absorbing fluids, salts, and nutrients as it normally would. If symptoms persist for more than two days or gets worse, stop use and consult your healthcare professional.

Of course, it’s best to try to avoid diarrhea if possible. That’s why we’ve provided tips on managing your diarrhea and preventing it from happening again or in the first place.


1. - November 2016
2. - November 2016
3. - Mar 27, 2018
4. - Oct 04, 2018
5. - December 2012
6. - June 26, 2019
7. - 2005
8. - 18 February 2020

IBS Digestion and Diarrhea

IBS can cause diarrhea. IMODIUM® products relieve the symptoms of diarrhea. Consult your healthcare professional if you think you may have IBS.

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