What Causes Diarrhea and How to Treat It

Diarrhea is particularly characterized by loose, watery stools that may occur more frequently than usual. It may come with other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or weight loss. While often unpleasant and inconvenient, it usually resolves within a few days. However, persistent diarrhea can signal a more serious issue, such as a persistent infection, celiac disease, or an inflammatory bowel condition.

What Causes Diarrhea and How to Treat It

Things You Should Know About Diarrhea

Diarrhea primarily occurs when food and fluids you ingest pass too quickly or in large amounts through your colon. Generally, your colon typically absorbs liquids from the food you consume, leaving a semi-solid stool. However, if your colon isn’t absorbing enough liquids or if it’s propelling its contents too quickly through your digestive tract, you might experience diarrhea.

There are two major types of diarrhea: acute and chronic. Acute diarrhea typically lasts a couple of days and is often caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Chronic diarrhea, however, lasts longer—usually at least four weeks—and can be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Causes of Diarrhea

Numerous factors can lead to diarrhea. Some of the common causes include:

  • Infections: Diarrhea can be a result of infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Common culprits include E.coli, norovirus, and giardia.
  • Food intolerances and sensitivities: Certain individuals have difficulty digesting specific types of food, which can lead to diarrhea. This includes lactose intolerance and celiac disease.
  • Medication: Certain drugs, such as antibiotics, can cause diarrhea because they can affect the natural balance of bacteria in your intestines.
  • Digestive disorders: Chronic diarrhea may be a symptom of a chronic disease, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.

How to Treat Diarrhea

Thankfully, you can usually treat acute diarrhea effectively at home. Here’s how:

  1. Stay Hydrated: The biggest health risk with diarrhea is dehydration. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids like water, broths, or electrolyte-rich sports drinks to replace the fluids and electrolytes you’ve lost.
  2. Eat a Bland Diet: Follow the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast), which is naturally gentle on your stomach.
  3. Avoid Certain Foods: Stay away from foods that can aggravate your digestive system, like dairy products, spicy foods, high-fat foods, and artificial sweeteners.
  4. Consider Over-the-Counter Medication: OTC drugs like loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) can help slow down your system and reduce the frequency of your bowel movements.

However, if you have chronic diarrhea or if your symptoms are severe (high fever, bloody stools, signs of dehydration), consult a healthcare professional who specializes in the digestive system (gastroenterologist). They may prescribe medication, recommend diagnostic tests, or refer you to a specialist, depending on the cause of your diarrhea.


While it’s not always possible to prevent diarrhea, some general tips can help reduce your risk:

  • Practice good hygiene, like washing your hands regularly, to avoid infectious agents.
  • If you’re traveling, be cautious about drinking water and consuming food, particularly in areas with poor sanitation.
  • If certain foods trigger your symptoms, try to identify and avoid them.
  • Maintain a balanced diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables to promote a healthy digestive system.

Further Reading: 6 Simple Home Remedies to Treat Diarrhea

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