Having diarrhea once in a blue moon is miserable enough. Having it multiple times a week or (*shudder*) every day? So much #nope.
“Chronic diarrhea is defined as having loose stools or very frequent stools for more than two weeks,” says Anthony Starpoli, MD, gastroenterologist in New York City.
Most people associate diarrhea with things like food poisoning, infections, or the “stomach flu,” which typically cause symptoms for just a few days. That’s called acute diarrhea, and it usually goes away on its own.
But for some people, diarrhea is—unfortunately—a regular part of their lives. Although common, chronic diarrhea is definitely not normal and is a sign of a problem.
Possible Causes of Chronic Diarrhea
When diarrhea occurs frequently for more than two weeks, you might be dealing with a bowel disease. Here are conditions that can cause chronic diarrhea.
Ongoing infections from bacteria and parasites. These usually pass within days, but some can linger or cause continued digestive problems, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Certain medications like antibiotics, cancer drugs, and some antacids.
A colon disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. “There are many other [symptoms] that go along with those other than having diarrhea,” says Dr. Starpoli, “so we don’t immediately think that someone with diarrhea for more than two weeks has IBD.” Other key symptoms include abdominal pain and bleeding.
Irritable bowel syndrome and other functional bowel disorders. Conditions like this refer to a constellation of gastrointestinal symptoms without a clear cause. Here are signs your diarrhea is actually IBS.
Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks your small intestines when you eat foods that contain gluten, a protein commonly found in wheat and other grains.
A food intolerance like lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, or gluten intolerance. (And yes, it’s possible for these to not manifest until adulthood.) Avoiding the triggering foods will usually prevent diarrhea.
Chronic diarrhea is not normal and you should talk to your doctor about it. “After two weeks, if you still have loose, watery stools that are not getting any better,” says Dr. Starpoli, “you investigate.”