Acute diarrhea is something nearly everyone has experienced at one time or another. The loose, watery stools and abdominal cramps that characterize diarrhea usually last a couple of days. Diarrhea often means more-frequent trips to the toilet and a greater volume of stool.By definition, chronic diarrhea lasts much longer than does acute diarrhea, generally longer than four weeks. It can be a sign of a serious disorder, such as inflammatory bowel disease, or a less serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Diarrhea may cause a loss of significant amounts of water and salts. Most cases of diarrhea clear on their own without treatment. But see your doctor if diarrhea persists, if you become dehydrated or if you pass blood in your stool.

Tests and diagnosis
If you have diarrhea that requires medical attention, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and will want to determine if you're dehydrated. Tell your doctor about any medications you're taking, including over-the-counter medications — they may have caused the diarrhea.

Your doctor may examine your abdomen to determine the location of your pain, may listen to your abdomen with a stethoscope and may perform a rectal exam. Your doctor may suggest blood or stool tests to check for signs of infection or other abnormalities.