If you're suffering from diarrhea, you may be wondering what happened to cause it. Understanding what is causing your diarrhea is the key to finding relief. In many cases, the way that diarrhea is treated depends on the cause.
If you've been having diarrhea for 14 days or less, then the most likely culprits are an infection, something in your diet, stress, menstruation, running, or starting a new medication.
Infections and travel: Infections with bacteria, viruses, or parasites are a common cause of diarrhea, especially during travel. Diarrhea caused by a viral infection is also called the "stomach flu," although it's not actually caused by a flu virus. Common diarrhea-causing viruses include Norwalk virus and rotavirus. Bacteria that often cause diarrhea include E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter. You can become infected through contaminated food or drinks, by touching contaminated surfaces, or by close contact with an infected person. To protect yourself from infection, wash your hands before you eat or touch your face, and after you go to the washroom. When traveling, avoid ice cubes; drink only bottled water, pop, or beer; peel your own fruit; eat only food that is well-cooked and piping hot; and avoid shellfish and street vendor food.
Food and overindulgence: As you've already seen, food can carry infections that can cause diarrhea. But did you know that you can also get diarrhea from the food itself? Artificial sweeteners (e.g., mannitol and sorbitol) found in diet or "sugar-free" foods can lead to diarrhea if you eat too much of them. These sweeteners pull extra water into your bowels, which makes your stools more watery, leading to diarrhea. Food allergies and intolerances, such as lactose or gluten intolerance, can also cause diarrhea. You may have a food intolerance if you often have diarrhea after eating a certain type of food. As well, overindulgence in food, especially spicy foods, foods high in sugar, and foods containing artificial sweeteners (such as sorbitol), can cause diarrhea. Overindulgence in alcohol can also lead to diarrhea. Remember, it is better to have everything in moderation.
Stress: Stress and nervousness can cause diarrhea. What's the connection between stress and diarrhea? Stress can make the bowels move faster. This leaves less time for water to be reabsorbed into your body, leading to watery stools.
Menstruation: Sometimes, diarrhea can be linked to a woman's menstrual cycle. Diarrhea may appear just before or during menstruation.
Running: Runners may experience "runner's diarrhea" – loose bowel movements that happen during or just after a run. We don't know exactly what causes runner's diarrhea, but it's believed that the action of running may stimulate bowel activity or make food pass more quickly through the digestive system.
Medications: Sometimes a new medication can cause diarrhea. Antibiotics can often cause diarrhea that starts a couple of days after you start the medication and stops when you finish taking it. Certain medications for diabetes, heart conditions, cancer, and HIV can also lead to diarrhea. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which of the medications you are taking may be associated with diarrhea.
If you've been having diarrhea for 2 weeks or less, think about recent changes or new things in your life. This can help you pinpoint the cause.
Diarrhea lasting more than 2 weeks may be a sign of an underlying health problem. See your doctor to find out what may be causing your diarrhea. Possible suspects include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, poor blood flow to the bowels, problems absorbing nutrients, a long-standing infection, or a food allergy or intolerance. Long-standing diarrhea can also be caused by chemotherapy and radiation.
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