Chronic Diarrhea Causes And Consequences
Robert Burakoff, MD, MPH, is board-certified in gastroentrology. He is the vice chair for ambulatory services for the department of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, where he is also a professor. He was the founding editor and co-editor in chief of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.
Frequent diarrhea lasting longer than a few weeks is considered chronic diarrhea, whether it occurs every day or every few days. Diarrhea is most commonly described as watery stools. If you experience symptoms for several weeks, then your chronic diarrhea should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.
The causes of chronic diarrhea vary and sometimes can be easily managed or it can be an indication of serious health problems that need to be evaluated and treated, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Over time, diarrhea can cause new health problems, such as nutritional deficiencies.
Key Points About Diarrhea
- Diarrhea is when your stools are loose and watery.
- You may also need to go to the bathroom more often.
- Short-term diarrhea lasts 1 or 2 days.
- Long-term diarrhea lasts several weeks.
- Diarrhea symptoms may include belly cramps and an urgent need to go to the bathroom.
- Loss of fluids is one of the more serious side effects.
- Treatment usually involves replacing lost fluids.
- You may need an infection-fighting medicine if a bacterial infection is the cause.
What Procedures And Tests Diagnose Diarrhea
In healthy people with diarrhea, and who appear well otherwise, the health-care professional may elect to do no tests at all. Stool cultures are not usually necessary unless there is high fever, blood in the stool, recent travel, or prolonged disease.
- In some cases, the health care professional may send a sample of the stool to the laboratory to evaluate if the cause of diarrhea can be determined . It usually takes approximately one to two days for the results of these tests.
- Blood tests are sometimes necessary for patients with other medical problems or with severe disease.
- A colonoscopy is an endoscope procedure that allows the physician to view the entire colon to evaluate for infections or structural abnormalities that could cause the condition.
- Imaging tests such as X-rays or CT scans are performed to rule out structural abnormalities as the cause of diarrhea, particularly when pain is a prominent symptom.
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How To Prevent Diarrhea
While diarrhea may be a sign of an underlying health condition and may be unavoidable, there are steps you can take to avoid some of the causes.
One of the most important things you can do to prevent diarrhea is to wash your hands frequently. Be sure to wash your hands after using the bathroom, before preparing or eating food, before and after caring for someone who is ill, after touching garbage, and after touching an animal, animal feed, and animal waste.
If soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60 percent alcohol, per the CDC.
Another important way to prevent diarrhea in children is to get them vaccinated against rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhea mostly in babies and young kids. The virus can also lead to vomiting, fever, and dehydration. The CDC recommends babies get their first dose of the rotavirus vaccine at 2 months old. The second dose should be administered at 4 months old, and the third, if needed, at 6 months old.
The rotavirus vaccine will protect babies from severe diarrhea caused by rotavirus and most babies will not get rotavirus diarrhea at all, the CDC says.
Finally, you can take steps to avoid traveler’s diarrhea by watching what you eat and drink while traveling abroad, especially in developing countries, and talking to your doctor before you leave about taking antibiotics as a precaution, notes the CDC.
What Is Diarrhea Symptoms Causes Diagnosis Treatment And Prevention
Diarrhea is a common ailment that most everyone experiences from time to time. It is characterized by the passing of loose, watery stool accompanied by abdominal pain and cramping.
Diarrhea typically clears up on its own within a few days, but severe or chronic diarrhea that lasts for weeks can be a sign of a serious health problem that needs medical attention.
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Should You Take A Prescription
Your doctor may prescribe medicine to help control your symptoms if you often have diarrhea because of irritable bowel syndrome . These medicines include:
Alosetronis for some women with really serious IBS-D. Your doctor may give it to you if nothing else works. It could cause serious side effects, like constipation and less blood flow to your colon.
Eluxadoline can slow down gut contractions. That might ease your pain. But you shouldnât use it if you donât have a gallbladder. It could lead to pancreatitis. Thatâs when your pancreas is inflamed.
Rifaximinis an antibiotic that works on certain bacteria in your gut. Youâd likely only take it for 2 weeks. Itâs sometimes used to treat travelerâs diarrhea.
New IBS-D drugs are in the works. Ask your doctor if there are more options you can try.
Inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohnâs disease or ulcerative colitis, can cause ongoing diarrhea. Your doctor will give you another kind of prescription to manage those conditions.
Pregnancy Heartburn Or Indigestion
Heartburn is a burning feeling that starts in the stomach and seems to rise up to the throat. During pregnancy, changing hormone levels slow down your digestive system, weaken the stomach sphincter, and your uterus can crowd your stomach, pushing stomach acids upward.
- Try to avoid constipation. Constipation can cause hemorrhoids and will make them more painful.
- Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time change your position frequently.
- Dont strain during a bowel movement.
- Apply ice packs or cold compresses to the area or take a warm bath a few times a day to provide relief.
- Avoid tight-fitting underwear, pants, or pantyhose.
- If you still need more help, consult your health care provider.
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How Is Chronic Diarrhea Treated
Treatment for chronic diarrhea really depends on the underlying cause. Some treatments are relatively simple to figure outif you have chronic diarrhea because of food intoleranceor because you have celiac disease, you can “treat” the symptoms by avoiding the foods that trigger you, says Dr. De Latour.
Treatment for IBS also involves changing your diet. “It’s really getting to know the patient and figuring out what their triggers are and avoiding those,” says Dr. Lee. When you’re diagnosed, your doctor will suggest an elimination diet, typically the FODMAP diet, to determine what triggers your symptoms. This means avoiding high FODMAP foods that tend to irritate the gut, like dairy, wheat, beans and lentils, certain vegetables like asparagus and onions, and some fruits like cherries and peaches, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Once you figure out what triggers you, avoiding those foods can help treat your symptoms. Your doctor might also suggest taking medication, like antimotility drugs to slow down the diarrhea, says Dr. De Latour.
If an infection is causing your chronic diarrhea, treatment usually involves treating whatever is infecting you, whether it means taking antibiotics to clear up a bacterial infection or medications that target parasites. Viral infections tend to clear up on their own, according to Dr. De Latour.
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Resources We Love: Diarrhea
Brought to you by an institute within the federal National Institutes of Health outside Washington, DC, this website offers information on symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. You can also learn about chronic diarrhea or find out how to participate in clinical trials.
According to the CDC, 30 to 70 percent of travelers experience diarrhea every year, depending on where they go. Find out how to prevent and treat the condition.
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Is It Safe To Take Activated Charcoal
Unlike charcoal briquettes , activated charcoal is of food-grade quality and safe for human consumption.
Your body doesnt absorb activated charcoal. Instead, this compound stays within the gastrointestinal tract without changing its form. Eventually, it passes out of your body, along with the toxins that were present in your digestive system.
Is Diarrhea An Early Sign Of Pregnancy Or Implantation Ways To Tell
Thinking or hoping that youre pregnant can make you feel all kinds of emotions, including excitement, joy, nervousness, dread, anxiety, happiness, anticipation, or outright fear.
And whether you want to be pregnant or not, if you think you might be, it can seem like everything out of the ordinary is a sign that you are. What about diarrhea is that an early sign of pregnancy?
Diarrhea isnt a reliable early sign of pregnancy or implantation. Firstly, there are numerous reasons a woman could have diarrhea, most of which have nothing to do with pregnancy. Also, by the time hormonal and diet changes cause diarrhea in expectant moms, most women already know theyre pregnant.
This article will further explain why you shouldnt read too much into diarrhea as it relates to pregnancy. It will also touch on a few more diarrhea-related topics fun, right? While reading about diarrhea may not be at the top of your to-do list today, there is a lot of great information here, so keep reading to find out more.
Covered in this Article:
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Causes Of Abdominal Pain And Diarrhea
Most people occasionally experience abdominal pain and diarrhea for a short time. Changes to your diet, consuming too much alcohol, and indigestion may cause these symptoms.
Frequent, constant, or severe abdominal pain and diarrhea may indicate a disease or a more serious medical issue. Diarrhea that gets progressively worse and is bloody can also be a sign of a more serious issue. Possible causes of abdominal pain and diarrhea include:
The above conditions and disorders can cause inflammation in different parts of your digestive tract, like the stomach and intestines. When your digestive system is inflamed, you might have cramps and trouble with typical digestive processes. This usually results in abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Abdominal pain and diarrhea that last for more than a week or keep coming back may be a sign of an intestinal disease or disorder. Talk with your doctor if youve experienced these symptoms for more than a week or on a reoccurring basis.
What Is The Best Way To Confirm Pregnancy
The best way to confirm pregnancy is to do a blood test measuring the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone. Women can also take a home pregnancy test. Home pregnancy tests are fairly reliable but may occasionally be a false-positive. This can occur for a number of reasons, including having a chemical or ectopic pregnancy or even taking certain medications. Following a positive home pregnancy test with a doctors visit for a urine or blood test to confirm the pregnancy is the best way to confirm a pregnancy.
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We Know Youre Wondering: Is It Possible To Be Pregnant And Still Have A Period
Nope, experts say. Some people may experience bleeding or spotting, but those are different bleeding patterns from the cyclical menses your body experiences in absence of a pregnancy.
Dr. Michele Hakakha, an OB-GYN and author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy, told Parents that people definitely can experience vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, but that when they bleed, they are not having a period.’ Thats because your body needs to reserve the uterine lining as nourishment for the growing pregnancy.
Although bleeding during pregnancy doesnt always mean cause for concern, it can indicate something more serious like a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In the earliest stage of pregnancy, however, some very light bleeding is totally normal and leads us to our first pregnancy clue: implantation bleeding.
Implantation bleeding usually doesnt last more than a couple of days, and its much lighter than most peoples periods .
A Pharmacist Can Help With Diarrhoea And Vomiting
Speak to a pharmacist if:
- you or your child have signs of dehydration such as dark, smelly pee or peeing less than usual
- you need to stop diarrhoea for a few hours
They may recommend:
- oral rehydration sachets you mix with water to make a drink
- medicine to stop diarrhoea for a few hours not suitable for children under 12
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Which Medical Treatments Can Cause Diarrhoea
Some medical treatments may cause diarrhoea as a side effect:
Antibiotics can cause diarrhoea in a small proportion of people who take them. This is because some antibiotics are not selective in the bacteria they target, meaning they kill some ‘good’ bacteria as well as the ‘bad’ bacteria. This can alter the balance of bacteria in the bowel, resulting in a temporary bout of diarrhoea. This should clear up when the course of antibiotics is finished.
Clostridium difficile infection
Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that lives in the gut of many young children and some adults without causing any problems. It exists as part of a collection of bacteria and other organisms that live in the bowel.
Sometimes, however, C. diff can multiply out of control and take over, including after a person has taken antibiotics to treat an infection. The antibiotics often destroy good bacteria as well as the ones causing the infection. Without the good bacteria to compete with, C. diff can multiply unrestricted.
Once established in the bowel, C. diff can produce toxins that attack the bowel lining and cause diarrhoea and cramping abdominal pain. This may be mild or very severe. The infection may come back, even after it has been treated.
Many medicines can cause diarrhoea as a side effect. As well as antibiotics, common examples include antacids that contain magnesium NSAIDs anti-arrhythmic medicines designed to treat abnormal heartbeats and laxatives.
How Are Vomiting And Diarrhea Diagnosed
Vomiting and diarrhea can be diagnosed at home. Neither condition requires a trip to the doctor. However, call your doctor if the vomiting and diarrhea dont seem to be getting better, or if the person who is vomiting and/or has diarrhea:
- Is younger than 6 months old.
- Is older than 6 months old and has a fever higher than 101.4°F.
- Has signs of dehydration .
- Has been vomiting longer than 8 hours or is vomiting with great force.
- Has blood in his or her stools.
- Has blood in his or her vomit.
- Has not urinated in 8 hours.
- Might have swallowed something that could be poisonous.
- Has a stiff neck or bad headache.
- Is listless or unusually sleepy.
- Has had abdominal pain for more than 2 hours.
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What Causes Diarrhea
Diarrhea may be caused by many things, including:
- A bacterial infection
- Trouble digesting certain things
- Food allergy
- Parasites that enter the body through food or water
- A reaction to medicines
- An intestinal disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease
- A problem with how your stomach and bowels work , such as irritable bowel syndrome
- A result of surgery on the stomach or gall bladder
- Recent antibiotic use
- Metabolic conditions such as thyroid problems
- Other less common reasons such as damage from radiation treatments or tumors that make too many hormones
Many people get traveler’s diarrhea. This happens when you have food or water that is not safe because of bacteria, parasites, and even food poisoning.
Severe diarrhea may mean you have a serious disease. See your healthcare provider if your symptoms dont go away or if they keep you from doing your daily activities. It may be hard to find out what is causing your diarrhea.
Can You Take Over
If you have a bout of acute diarrhea, you might reach for Pepto Bismol or Imodiumboth can make short-term diarrhea more bearable. But these OTC medications shouldn’t be your go-to for a lengthy period of time when dealing with chronic diarrhea, and if you have to take it for more than two to three weeks, it’s time to consult your doctor. Note that, according to Dr. Lee, Pepto Bismol shouldn’t be taken by those who are pregnant or allergic to aspirin.
These OTC medications also won’t cure your chronic diarrheathey’ll just mask the issue. That’s especially true for Imodium , which merely slows diarrhea down. While it’s great for bouts of acute diarrhea, it’s potentially dangerous for chronic diarrhea, since it can back up your colon. “That may actually worsen whatever the problem is,” says Dr. Lee.
Overall, if your diarrhea is chronic, the best way to treat it is to first figure out the root cause and treat that, rather than just treating the symptoms.
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Diarrhea Combined With Other Symptoms: Am I Pregnant
Weve already established that diarrhea by itself isnt enough to mean or even be a reliable indicator that youre pregnant. But what about diarrhea accompanied by other symptoms, such as abdominal cramps, constipation, or stomach bug? Could those be signs of pregnancy?
Lets take a look at some of the most common pairings with diarrhea and other ailments:
If the only pregnancy symptom youve had lately is diarrhea, you probably arent pregnant. However, pregnancy is a possibility if youre experiencing diarrhea along with other common symptoms of pregnancy.
Hopefully, this article has given you enough information to decide whether you need to take the next steps in a potential pregnancy journey.
|This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.|
When To See Your Doctor
While occasional bouts of diarrhea are common and not cause for concern, diarrhea can become dangerous if it leads to severe dehydration. It can also signal an infection or a more serious health issue.
Visit your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea that lasts more than two days
- Diarrhea accompanied by a fever of 102 degrees F or higher
- Six or more loose stools in 24 hours
- Severe, unbearable pain in the abdomen or rectum
- Bloody stools or stools that are black and tarry or contain pus
- Diarrhea accompanied by frequent vomiting
- Signs of dehydration
Infants, toddlers, and young children should be taken to the doctor if they have any of these symptoms or diarrhea lasting more than 24 hours.
Older adults and people with compromised immune systems should also seek medical care if they have diarrhea.
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