Besides being unpleasant, here’s what you should know about frequent diarrhea.
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.”
Dr. Starpoli is a board-certified gastroenterologist who is affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital-Northwell Health, Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel Medical Center, and NYU Langone Medical Center.
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Chronic diarrhea is defined
as having loose stools or
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very frequent stools for
more than two weeks.
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Firstly, you would make sure
that there's not infection.
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Norovirus, the rotavirus in children,
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Often those will also have other
symptoms with them, as well.
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It's not just diarrhea.
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Usually there'll be some nausea,
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then the whole syndrome of viral aches and
this and that.
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Bacterial infections, salmonella,
shigella, again your eating history.
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Where did you get that?
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Who were you exposed to?
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The egg salad at the diner,
the poorly cooked chicken.
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Additionally, you're gonna
take a medication history too,
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cuz there's certain drugs, not that many,
that can loosen up the stools too.
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Antibiotics can cause a very
virulent bug that can give diarrhea.
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This is called clostridium difficile.
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Diarrhea lasting more than two weeks could
be something more of an organic nature,
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either ongoing infection,
or some underlying process,
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such as what we call
inflammatory bowel disease, IBD,
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idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease,
of which contain in that group,
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Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
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There are many other things that go along
with those other than having diarrhea.
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So we don't immediately think
that someone with diarrhea for
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more than two weeks has IBD.
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But if it persists, and especially
if the patient has other symptoms,
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abdominal pain, bleeding,
we need to investigate.
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You don't need to have an infection
to get diarrhea from some foods, and
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some people will say I eat X and
I get diarrhea.
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Certain people can't
tolerate certain sugars.
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The most common would
be lactose intolerance.
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There's fructose intolerance, sucrose
intolerance, so the therapy begins not
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with giving drugs that stop
the motion in your colon, but
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by trying to address those culprits that
might be producing that form of diarrhea.
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After two weeks,
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if you still have loose, watery stools
that are not getting any better.
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Again, if it's getting better,
you give it time.
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If it's not better, or
if it's getting worse, you investigate.
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Diarrhea. Washington, DC: U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on May 16, 2018 at https://medlineplus.gov/diarrhea.html.)Symptoms & causes of diarrhea. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (Accessed on May 16, 2018 at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea/symptoms-causes.)