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Diarrhea is defined by the World Health Organization as the passing of loose or watery stools more than three times a day. These irregular bowel movements are due to one of two things: either more fluid is released into the intestines, or conversely, the intestines are instead struggling to absorb any liquid at all.

Acute diarrhea is the most common form of diarrhea. It produces watery stool and does not last more than a few days.

Chronic diarrhea also produces inconsistent stool, but it lasts much longer. It is associated with certain conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The symptoms and effects of chronic diarrhea are often more severe than acute diarrhea.

There is an average of two billion cases of diarrheal disease every year, and the typical adult will encounter an episode of diarrhea about four times a year. Diarrhea can occur at any age and, in most cases, it is treatable and short-lived.

Most cases of diarrhea are minor and resolve themselves in a few days. But some longer-lasting cases, usually those due to infection or chronic disease, can be serious. Around 2.2 million people died due to diarrheal diseases in 2004. According to a 2008 WHO report, diarrhea is the fifth leading cause of death in the world.

In every person there are billions of microorganisms that keep your gut (intestines) working properly. These are called intestinal flora and they play a well-established role in digestion and infectious GI diseases. Some medicines, certain diseases, travel and stress can cause an upset in the balance of microorganisms in your body.