Diarrhea: Causes and Treatments
Like most people, you’ve probably experienced an occasional bout of diarrhea from time to time. It can be unpleasant or uncomfortable and may be accompanied by cramping or bloating and an urgent need to go to the bathroom. This is followed by loose, even watery or runny stool. (This is why diarrhea is often referred to as having “the runs.”)
Sometimes it involves only a single bowel movement before clearing up on its own. At other times, it may continue for a day or two before your system gets back to normal. These brief episodes are usually nothing to worry about and – like most short, minor illnesses – are often an example of your body’s immune system taking care of an infection by some form of pathogen.
What triggers diarrhea?
The basic physiology of diarrhea is that there is too much liquid in the stool, which means either the intestines are producing too much fluid or not absorbing enough fluid throughout the digestion process. This increases the pressure and causes irritation in the bowel, which leads to the symptoms of diarrhea.
There are many possible triggers that cause routine diarrhea, running a mild and limited course, the most common of which include:
- Viral or bacterial infection. Some viruses – including norovirus and rotavirus – can cause diarrhea. And bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, which are often introduced into the body on contaminated food, can also trigger diarrhea.
- A reaction to certain foods. The foods that trigger an episode of diarrhea may vary from one person to the next. In some cases, it could be a sensitivity to specific foods or an inability for the body to process certain foods. For example, some people’s digestive systems have a problem processing dairy products, a condition known as lactose intolerance. Greasy and spicy foods can also cause diarrhea in some people.
- Medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. Antibiotics of almost any kind can cause diarrhea. The cause may be that antibiotics kill bacteria, some of which are part of the digestive process. Antidepressants, antacids, NSAIDs, and magnesium supplements can also trigger diarrhea.
- Chronic digestive problems. Some medical conditions – such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and colitis – can impair the digestive system’s ability to process food.
- Recent surgical procedures. Some surgeries can trigger diarrhea, especially procedures performed on the digestive tract, or specific organs, like the gallbladder, liver, spleen, or pancreas. The cause can vary depending on the type of surgery, but may include an increase in bile production if the surgery involves the liver or gallbladder.
- Stress. Having a “knot” or “butterflies” in your stomach is a familiar experience for most people. It’s caused by stress hormones like adrenaline, which can stimulate the muscles in the bowel, causing food to move faster through the large intestine. As a result, food won’t be completely digested and any water may not be properly absorbed, causing the diarrhea.
- An intestinal blockage. Sometimes, when there is a partial obstruction of the small intestines, solid foods get stuck but liquids are able to pass. Because the passages are narrower, blockage is far more likely to happen in the small intestines than in the large intestine.
What you should do.
Diarrhea that lasts just a day or two is an occasional issue that most people have experienced once in a while. However, if it’s a protracted fever that lasts longer than a few days – or is accompanied by a fever, chills, nausea, vomiting or blood in the stool – it’s time to see a physician. A doctor will be able to perform a full examination and run tests to see if a more serious condition is causing the problem. In some cases, a colonoscopy may be necessary.
While you’re experiencing diarrhea, be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and getting electrolytes from sources that include chicken/bone broth, coconut water, or Gatorade. Also, be mindful of your hygiene and make sure you are washing your hands frequently, especially if you are going to handle food.
The Center for Advanced Gastroenterology
At the Center for Advanced Gastroenterology, we have dedicated our practice to providing effective diagnostic and treatment solutions for issues of the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract and liver for our patients. These issues include such conditions as:
- Viral hepatitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Persistent diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Acid reflux/GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Gastritis/abdominal pain
- Severe nausea
- Ulcerative colitis
Convenient Locations and Caring Staff
In addition to the treatment we provide, we are also committed to your physical and emotional comfort. We have six locations throughout Central Florida for your convenience, and our highly specialized physicians and clinical staff members take the time to listen to you and make sure you understand your diagnosis and any treatment we may prescribe.
The procedures we offer include:
- Diagnostic colonoscopy
- Colon cancer screening
- Upper endoscopy
- Capsule endoscopy
- Banding of internal hemorrhoids