There are many odd and uncomfortable symptoms related to diarrhea, but mucus might be one you’re not familiar with. Read on to learn why mucus sometimes appears in diarrhea, if it’s cause for worry, and what to do about it.
What is Mucus?
First of all, it’s helpful to understand exactly what mucus is and why the body produces it. Mucus is a thick, jelly-like substance that the body creates to moisturize and protect organs and tissues. Its production is ramped up (as you have likely experienced) when you have a cold or other illness for this very reason: to protect your organs and tissues.
For example, nasal mucus works to protect you from dust and other particles in the environment, moisturize your nasal passages and fight infections. Another common type of mucus is phlegm (mucus produced by the respiratory system), which works similarly, by supporting and protecting the respiratory system.
Why Does Mucus Appear in Stool?
While nasal mucus and phlegm are pretty normal, you might be more surprised to find mucus in stool or diarrhea. Rest assured that mucus in your stool is usually pretty normal, and not a major cause for concern.
Dehydration, Constipation & Medications
If you are healthy, mucus in your stool is typically white or slightly yellow, so it often goes unnoticed. Two of the most common causes of mucus in stool are dehydration and constipation. Both of these causes can produce excess mucus which can result in more mucus in the stool. Certain medications such as antibiotics can also cause heightened mucus production.
Inflammatory GI Conditions
Mucus in diarrhea could be a sign of an underlying GI issue, as the intestinal mucus layer protects the body from intruders in your intestinal tract. Research has shown that certain inflammatory conditions can break down this mucosal layer, and this could cause you to excrete the mucus with your stool.
Specific inflammatory GI conditions to consider if mucus in diarrhea is a common occurrence for you include:
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Cystic Fibrosis
If you suspect any of these GI conditions, it’s important to consult with your doctor. Other possibilities include malabsorption issues (not properly being able to digest and absorb nutrients from foods) or food allergies, and often the two go hand in hand. If you think you might be suffering from malabsorption or a food allergy, you can work with a dietitian or nutritionist to perform testing and/or an elimination diet to determine what foods are disagreeing with you. Two common allergens to consider are gluten and dairy.
What Can I Do?
Aside from seeking appropriate professional help as outlined above, staying well hydrated is key. Shoot for half of your body weight in ounces of water daily, as a minimum. Next, an anti-inflammatory and well-balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, moderate fruits and plenty of healthy fats and protein is important. Avoid processed/packaged foods, deep fried foods and spicy foods.
And taking a high-quality probiotic supplement and regularly eating fermented foods like raw sauerkraut and plain yogurt (if you tolerate dairy or unsweetened kefir) can help to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
In most instances, mucus in diarrhea will improve on its own within a matter of days. If the problem persists, it’s best to check in with your healthcare provider to rule out a more serious issue.