Eight conditions that can cause diarrhea

Diarrhea, which is defined as three or more loose bowel movements in a day, can happen for many reasons. Here are some of the most common causes of this condition.

1) Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is caused by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. There are two main forms of IBD: Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Ulcerative Colitis only affects the colon, whereas Crohn’s Disease can affect the entire GI tract, from the mouth to the anus. Common IBD symptoms include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss and fatigue.

2) Food poisoning

Food poisoning is caused by ingesting food that’s contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Common symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and a fever. The pathogen that’s causing these symptoms can often be detected on a stool test.

3) Viral gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis is often referred to as the “stomach flu.” Unlike food poisoning, viral gastroenteritis is not a food-borne illness. It’s usually caused by having contact with a person who has an active infection. Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include nausea, vomiting and watery diarrhea.

In most cases, viral gastroenteritis resolves on its own within 48-72 hours. However, in severe cases, symptoms may last as many as 10 days.

4) Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is a condition caused by an overactive thyroid. This overactivity causes increased stimulation of the GI tract, which can result in diarrhea and malabsorption. A simple blood test can be performed on someone with persistent diarrhea to see if hyperthyroidism is the cause of their symptoms.

5) Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects the colon (the large intestine.) The causes of IBS aren’t yet well understood. There is some evidence that people who have had early childhood trauma, a previous GI tract infection, a change in microbes within the intestines or an abnormally stimulated nervous system may be at an increased risk of IBS.

People with IBS often experience abdominal bloating and cramping. They can also experience either constipation, or diarrhea, or a mixture of both.

6) Traveler's diarrhea

Traveler's Diarrhea is caused by ingesting food or drink that contains a pathogen that’s familiar to the bodies of people who live in that area, but foreign to your body. Because your body’s immune system doesn’t recognize the pathogen, it causes symptoms of food-borne infection, including abdominal cramps and abrupt onset of watery diarrhea.

7) Celiac disease

Celiac Disease is caused by an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Symptoms of Celiac Disease include fatigue, weight loss, bloating, anemia, and diarrhea. Celiac Disease is most diagnosed with blood tests. The symptoms of Celiac Disease usually resolve with a strict gluten-free diet.

8) Clostridioides difficile

Clostridioides difficile, commonly called C. Diff, is a bacteria that causes inflammation in the colon that results in profuse watery, foul-smelling diarrhea. Risk factors for developing a C. Diff infection include taking oral antibiotics, being over the age of 65, and staying in a hospital or nursing home.

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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant