Chronic diarrhea is diarrhea doesn’t go away, or that keeps coming back. It’s different from the diarrhea you get with something like “the stomach flu.” Chronic diarrhea is one of the main IBS symptoms.
The stomach flu (doctors call it gastroenteritis) is caused by a virus or bacteria. The stomach flu lasts from 1 to 10 days, depending on what’s causing it. You should contact your doctor or medical professional if you still have diarrhea after 10 days. Definitely call a medical professional right away if you see any blood!
With any kind of diarrhea you need to make sure you’re not getting dehydrated, which can be dangerous.
Chronic Diarrhea Keeps Coming Back
Recurring or persistent diarrhea is a sign that there is something going wrong in your bowels.
Some medical conditions that can cause chronic diarrhea are:
Hereditary disorders (e.g. cystic fibrosis, enzyme deficiencies).
Intestinal disorders such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease or irritable bowel syndrome.
- Food intolerance (e.g. fructose, wheat, gluten, soy, dairy products like milk and cheese, MSG, Olestra, sorbitol).
- Medications (e.g. antibiotics, laxatives, and many others).
- Problems with the immune system such as immunoglobulin deficiencies, autoimmune disease or AIDS.
- Disorders of the pancreas such as chronic pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis.
- Structural problems like reduced blood flow to the intestine (for instance after an injury or surgery).
- Thyroid problems like hyperthyroidism.
- Tumors and/or cancer.
As you can see, it’s important to consult a medical professional to rule out something serious.
If your doctor doesn’t find any cause of your chronic diarrhea, he or she will often make a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. Chronic diarrhea is one of the main symptoms of IBS.
IBS with Diarrhea
Like all diarrhea, the cause of IBS diarrhea is fecal matter (also known as poop), moving through your bowels too quickly.
The large intestine’s main job is removing water from the stool. When your bowel is in high gear due to irritation or anxiety, everything is passing through too fast. When the large intestine doesn’t have enough time to do it’s job, you end up with watery diarrhea.
Traveler’s Diarrhea and Parasites
Some people get diarrhea during or after traveling to new places. This can happen due to eating all kinds of new foods. You can also be exposed to bacteria or viruses your immune system doesn’t know how to handle. These kinds of diarrhea usually go away by themselves after ruining your vacation.
Parasites on the other hand can stay inside of you (yuck) causing chronic diarrhea. Another reason to have it checked out by a doctor!
Diarrhea and Medicine
There are a number medications (such as Lomotil) that your doctor can prescribe for IBS diarrhea. Diarrhea medicine usually works by slowing down bowel activity.
There are also over the counter diarrhea remedies such as Imodium, but ask your doctor for recommendations before using any over the counter diarrhea remedies like Imodium for long periods.
Make sure to follow the recommendations on the box, or your doctor’s instructions. Any diarrhea medicine can cause problems if not used properly.
Things YOU Can Do Right Now to Help
Assuming you’ve already seen a doctor to rule out something serious, you may find the following lifestyle changes helpful.
I’ll be writing more about this, but here are some tips for now:
- How you eat affects IBS and Diarrhea. Slow small meals help keep your bowels from getting over excited.
- Chew your food 30 to 50 times per mouthful. (I’ve tried this and it helps, but I admit it strains the patience).
- Don’t rush through meals.
- Eat several small meals through out the day.
- Avoid fatty foods.
- Make sure to get enough fiber! Fiber is a huge help in combating both constipation and diarrhea.
- Keep a food diary for a while to see if any particular foods are causing your chronic diarrhea (more on this later too).
When Diarrhea Strikes
Diarrhea After eating
Eating can set your bowels in motion. This may seem strange, but just like the smell of food can make your mouth water, the act of chewing and swallowing can cause set off a bout of diarrhea. Having an over full stomach can get your bowels working overtime as well.
Diarrhea in the Morning
There is also something about getting started in the morning that can set off IBS symptoms. Getting up and kicking your nervous system into high gear seems to bring on an IBS attack.
For me, I’ve struggled with waking up in the morning and getting anxious to start the day. I would start rushing to get ready for work. I would be hurrying out the door, grabbing some food for the road, and by the time I’m half way to work, I’m nauseous and my belly is aching and cramping. And I LIKE my job. For those that feel anxiety about their job or their daily activities, it can be much worse.
Waking up with diarrhea is not usually a symptom of IBS. If it’s just a “stomach bug” that clears up in a day or two, that’s one thing. But if this happens to you more often, you should definitely tell your doctor. It could be a sign of a serious illness such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).