We all poop! It’s a normal part of life. However, loose or watery bowel movements, called diarrhea, can be very burdensome. Diarrhea normally lasts for a few days. However, if it lasts longer than a week, it could be a sign that you have irritable bowel syndrome, which is a disorder that affects the large intestine. There are many causes of diarrhea, which include:
- Bacterial infection or food poisoning. This can occur when we eat contaminated food or drink water that carries bacteria or parasites. These bacteria can include campylobacter, E. coli, listeria, salmonella, shigella and more. Contamination can happen during food production or if food is prepared incorrectly. Food poisoning is usually resolved without treatment and within a few days.
- Viruses. There are numerous viruses that can cause diarrhea, such as the norovirus, rotavirus and COVID-19. If your symptoms are severe, you should see your physician. Long-lasting diarrhea can cause dehydration.
- Lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products. People who are lactose intolerant are unable to digest this sugar, which causes diarrhea, bloating and cramping. See your doctor if you are concerned about your calcium intake.
- Antibiotics and medications. These medications can disturb the balance of good and bad bacteria in your intestine, which can cause diarrhea.
- Malabsorption. Malabsorption is when nutrients from food are not properly absorbed through the walls of your small intestines. This disorder can cause diarrhea and bloating. It’s important to see a physician because this disorder can increase your chance of bone fractures and infections.
- Allergies. Food allergies can cause diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. An allergic reaction is when your immune system overreacts to a substance and identifies it as a danger.
- Diabetes. High blood sugar can damage the digestive system, which can cause diarrhea.
- Fructose. Fructose is a natural sugar that can cause digestive problems in some people.
- Artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol and mannitol, can cause digestive problems in some people.
- Running. Diarrhea is most common in long distance runners.
- Radiation therapy
- Alcohol abuse
When should you call your doctor?
You should call your physician if you have:
- Diarrhea that lasts longer than three days
- Blood in your diarrhea
- Just left a foreign country
- Fever that is above 101 F and lasts longer than 24 hours
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dark urine
- Severe pain in your stomach or back
- Symptoms similar to COVID-19