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To most individuals, diarrhea means an increased frequency or decreased consistency of bowel movements; however, the medical definition is more exact than this. In many developed countries, the average number of bowel movements is three per day. However, researchers have found that diarrhea best correlates with an increase in stool weight; stool weights above 10oz (300 gs) per day generally indicates diarrhea. This is mainly due to excess water, which normally makes up 60-85% of fecal matter. In this way, true diarrhea is distinguished from diseases that cause only an increase in the number of bowel movements (hyperdefecation) or incontinence (involuntary loss of bowel contents). Diarrhea is also classified by physicians into acute, which lasts one or two weeks, and chronic, which continues for longer than 2 or 3 weeks. Viral and bacterial infections are the most common causes of acute diarrhea. In many cases, acute infectious diarrhea is a mild, limited annoyance. However, worldwide acute infectious diarrhea has a huge impact, causing over five million deaths per year. While most deaths are among children under five years of age in developing nations, the impact, even in developed countries, is considerable. For example, over 250,000 individuals are admitted to hospitals in the United States each year because of one of these episodes. Rapid diagnosis and proper treatment can prevent much of the suffering associated with these devastating illnesses. Chronic diarrhea also has a considerable effect on health, as well as on social and economic well being. Patients with celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and other prolonged diarrheal illnesses develop nutritional deficiencies that diminish growth and immunity. They affect social interaction and result in the loss of many working hours. Diarrhea occurs because more fluid passes through the large intestine (colon) than that organ can absorb. As a rule, the colon can absorb several times more fluid than is required on a daily basis. However, when this reserve capacity is overwhelmed, diarrhea occurs.

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