Mild, Moderate, or Severe Diarrhea

Search Knowledgebase

Topic Contents

Mild, Moderate, or Severe Diarrhea

Topic Overview

Diarrhea is described as an increase in the frequency of bowel movements or a decrease in the consistency of stools that causes the discharge of watery, loose stools. The severity of diarrhea is determined by the size and number of stools passed within a period of time.

The following table will help you decide whether you have mild, moderate, or severe diarrhea.

Mild, moderate, or severe diarrhea
Number of stools within the past 24 hours Size of stool: Small Size of stool: Medium Size of stool: Large
1 to 4 Mild diarrhea Mild diarrhea Moderate diarrhea
5 to 8 Mild diarrhea Moderate diarrhea Moderate diarrhea
9 to 12 Moderate diarrhea Moderate diarrhea Severe diarrhea
12 to 16 Moderate diarrhea Severe diarrhea Severe diarrhea
16 or more Severe diarrhea Severe diarrhea Severe diarrhea

Severe diarrhea has many causes. Stomach flu (gastroenteritis) or food poisoning may cause severe diarrhea. Drinking untreated water that contains the Giardia lamblia parasite can cause diarrhea that develops 1 to 4 weeks later.

Severe diarrhea increases your risk for dehydration by causing your body to lose large amounts of fluid quickly. It is important to increase your intake of fluids, such as water or a rehydration drink, and to watch for symptoms of dehydration.

Persistent diarrhea can have many causes, including dietary changes, stress, irritable bowel syndrome, and certain medicines. Occasionally, persistent diarrhea can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as a chronic infection, inflammatory bowel disease, a malabsorption syndrome, or colorectal cancer.

Related Information


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised June 14, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.