Chronic diarrhea can be caused by a variety of things, including infections, GI disorders, food intolerance, and a reaction to medication. Let’s take a closer look at the condition.
Causes and Risk Factors
Diarrhea is chronic when it occurs three or more times per day for more than two weeks. It has several potential causes. Infection is one main cause. This infection can be parasitic, and from parasites like Giardia or Cyclospora. Infection can also be bacterial, from bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. Some viral infections cause chronic diarrhea too, like some rhinoviruses and rotoviruses.
Outside of infections, there are several other potential causes. Pancreatic disorders like pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis can be a cause. GI diseases like Chrohn’s and IBS can cause diarrhea as well. Intolerance to foods can be at play too- lactose intolerance and fructose malabsorption are two examples. Additionally, some medications like laxatives and antibiotics can cause chronic diarrhea.
Symptoms of Chronic Diarrhea
As previously mentioned, diarrhea becomes chronic if it occurs three or more times per day for two or more weeks. Diarrhea is characterized by loose, watery stools that occur often more frequently than usual. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea, blood or mucus in stool, and a fever. It also dehydrates you over time. If left untreated, this can be very dangerous. You should always see a doctor for chronic diarrhea.
Chronic diarrhea itself is simple to diagnose, based on the definition outlined above. When you see a doctor for chronic diarrhea, they will work to diagnose the underlying cause. Depending on your symptoms, medical history, medications, the results of a physical exam, and other factors, they will select the appropriate testing measures. Stool samples can be tested to help identify if parasites, bacteria, or viruses are a cause. Your doctor may also want to do a blood test. If initial testing does not reveal a cause, your doctor may order an x-ray or endoscopy.
Chronic Diarrhea Treatment and Prevention
The cause of the condition dictates its treatment. With any case of diarrhea, fluid replacement is key. You should consume fluids and salts to replace those lost through diarrhea, unless otherwise ordered by your doctor. Some fruit juices and soup can be good options here. If liquids are upsetting your stomach, your doctor may recommend an IV to help rehydrate you.
Diarrhea caused by infection can often be treated with antibiotics or other medications. Your doctor will prescribe the proper medication for you depending on your case. If infection isn’t the cause, it will likely take more time to determine the underlying cause and therefore appropriate treatment. Conditions like IBS, Chrohn’s, fructose malabsorption, and Ulcerative Colitis all have their own treatment approaches. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best treatment options depending on the underlying cause.
Preventing chronic diarrhea involves mitigating risk factors for its various causes. To avoid infections that cause diarrhea, always drink safe, clean, properly-treated water. You should also use good food handling techniques, and practice good hand hygiene after using the bathroom and around food. If some foods trigger diarrhea for you, narrow down what they are and avoid them if possible.
Our experienced team at GHP has years of experience treating GI conditions like chronic diarrhea. We can help establish the best plan of care for your situation. Contact any of our office locations to learn about the options we offer and schedule an appointment today.