woman holding stomach. chronic diarrhea.

An Overview of Chronic Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common and acute symptom of a variety of illnesses. On the other hand, chronic diarrhea can be indicative of a much more serious issues. If you have been experiencing diarrhea for more than a few days, you might need to see your doctor. When diarrhea becomes a daily concern over several weeks or longer, it is time to put aside the stigma of talking about your bowels and figure out the deeper cause.

Symptoms

Chronic diarrhea is characterized by loose, watery stools that continue for more than four weeks. Diarrhea is considered chronic after a month or more. Other symptoms that may accompany diarrhea include dehydration and malnutrition, leading to unintended weight loss. Abdominal cramping or pain, bloating, gas, nausea, and urgency also commonly occur. A persistent fever can be indicative of long term infection as your body attempts to fight invasive pathogens. Blood may be present in your stool, which is a sign of something serious.

Lifestyle Causes

Chronic diarrhea can result from things you put into your body intentionally, not just inadvertent infections or poisonous substances. Several types of medication can result in diarrheatic issues for some people. Antibiotics can be an issue, although generally on an acute rather than chronic level. Although antibiotics kill bad bacteria, they also kill the good bacteria in your gut that keep your bowels relatively normal. Laxatives can cause diarrhea of course, but some herbal remedies and other substances can have a small amount of a laxative that you may not even realize.

The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) reports that the overindulgence of caffeine, alcohol, and sugars can be another causal factor. A host of other foods can cause diarrhea in some people as the result of a gastrointestinal allergic reaction. Lactose intolerance is the inability to process the lactose found in milk and other dairy products. Celiac disease is a disorder in which the immune system reacts abnormally when you ingest gluten. Artificial sweeteners are a common cause of diarrhea for many people.

Systemic Causes

Chronic diarrhea can also be a side effect of a long term illness. Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, lead to not only diarrhea but some very serious complications that can be life threatening without treatment. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often causes not only periods of chronic diarrhea, but also chronic constipation.

Diarrhea may be a side effect of operations performed on the gastrointestinal tract, particularly gall bladder removal. Pancreatic problems can also cause chronic diarrhea. Some types of tumors, ischemic bowel disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, and adrenal diseases are other causes of chronic diarrhea.

Treatment

It is virtually impossible to begin treating chronic diarrhea if you don’t know the cause. Chronic diarrhea caused by external products may be much easier to manage. If you are taking a medication for which diarrhea is a known side effect, talk to your doctor about another alternative. If you are on antibiotics long term, take a probiotic alongside it, such as acidophilus.

If you suspect a certain food is the culprit, you can try taking things out of your diet one at a time. In this way, you can see which foods are problematic. For example, if you suspect you are lactose intolerant, spend a week or two without any dairy intake and see how things progress. If the diarrhea remains, try removing a different food or beverage.

If chronic diarrhea is new or becoming increasingly worse, definitely call your doctor. Chronic diarrhea as a result of more serious diseases can require lifelong management and a change in lifestyle. IBDs in particular can cause long lasting damage. Perhaps most importantly, dealing quietly with chronic diarrhea lowers your quality of life. With medical care, you can get back to normal.