Diarrhea is defined by frequent loose stools that are often accompanied by lower abdominal cramping. Many sufferers report loss of bowel control and a sudden urge to have bowel movements. They may also feel incomplete relief after a bowel movement.

Who Gets Diarrhea?

Both men and women experience diarrhea.1 A small percentage of people with IBS-D or IBS-M may have celiac disease. Thereby, adverse reactions to gluten may lead to diarrhea.2

What Causes Diarrhea?

The Bristol Stool Scale is often used to differentiate between constipation and diarrhea. This helps medical professionals determine which treatment is appropriate to manage symptoms.2

Nevertheless, there are two types of diarrhea: acute and chronic.

Acute Diarrhea

This refers to watery stools that usually lasts for only few days, and often arises due to infection. This is very common. People get it after eating improperly prepared food, often at a restaurant. It can also happen on holiday, otherwise deemed ‘travellers diarrhea’. In these cases, formal diagnosis may not be necessary, since its self-limiting and there is no obvious bleeding.

Chronic Diarrhea

This type of diarrhea lasts for more than 3 weeks. It may require formal diagnosis to identify the exact cause and determine an appropriate treatment.

The causes of chronic diarrhea are rather wide and varied. Various tests can help identify the potential cause. Doctors must consider, among other things, the following:

  • Food intolerances
  • Reactions to medications
  • Intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
  • Malabsorption
  • Certain cancers
  • Over-active thyroid
  • Alcohol abuse

In a consultation, your doctor may ask you to avoid certain foods such as lactose, carbohydrates or wheat, in order to check your body’s response.

The doctor may also recommend special tests, such as a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy where a thin, flexible tube is passed into the bowel. The enables your doctor to check for inflammation and any other intestinal abnormalities.

Diarrhea Treatment

Treatment depends on what’s causing it in the first place. Generally, doctors may prescribe certain over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications to treat mild diarrhea. However, these should be avoided by patients passing bloody stools.

If an infection is causing the diarrhea, antibiotics may be prescribed, as well as absorbents, which bind the water in the small intestine and colon to make the stool harder. Sometimes, anti-motility medications may be given to relax the muscles of the small intestine and colon.

Ideally, you’ll want to adopt a healthier lifestyle and diet. This would include avoiding caffeine, which often has laxative effects, as well as spices and fried foods that can often worsen the condition.


  1. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. IBS in the Real World Survey. Summary Findings. August 2002.
  2. Wilkins T, Pepitone C, Alex B, Schade RR. Diagnosis and management of IBS in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86:419-426

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