Acute (short-term) bouts of diarrhea are inconvenient and annoying, but they happen to everyone once in a while and, typically, are not cause for concern. However, when diarrhea lasts for four weeks or more it is considered chronic and should be taken seriously.
In addition to loose stools, symptoms of chronic diarrhea can include cramping, bloating, gas, pain, and discomfort. Due to its ongoing nature and painful symptoms, many people find that chronic diarrhea interferes with their ability to enjoy life.
Causes of Chronic Diarrhea
Chronic diarrhea can be caused by anything that disrupts the natural process of digestion, which can cause excess liquid to be eliminated and solid waste to pass too quickly through the colon.
In many cases, chronic diarrhea is due to an underlying medical condition that must be addressed. Chronic diarrhea can be a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, Celiac Disease, Crohn’s disease and others. If you suspect that an underlying medical condition is causing your diarrhea, it’s best to consult with your doctor.
Food Allergies & Sensitivities
Another possible cause for chronic diarrhea is an unknown food allergy or sensitivity. Common intolerances include gluten and artificial sweeteners. There are also certain foods that can worsen diarrhea. Try to avoid triggering foods like alcohol, caffeine, overly spicy or fatty foods, and processed sugars as these can worsen diarrhea. Experimenting with a food and symptoms journal where you note when symptoms seem to worsen can help you determine what foods might be causing the issue. Since overeating can exacerbate symptoms, keep portions reasonable and eat slowly.
Other potential triggers of chronic diarrhea include certain medications, alcohol abuse, or chronic health conditions like diabetes. If you know or suspect one of these factors to be causing your chronic diarrhea, it’s best to seek medical attention.
When to Call Your Doctor
If you’re suffering from chronic diarrhea, it’s best to address the issue with your doctor. Stool and blood testing can help pinpoint specific causes, and they may feel a CT scan of the abdomen is necessary, especially if you are dealing with bloody stools or chronic pain in addition to diarrhea. Trust your gut and head to the doctor if you feel something is not normal – you should never let painful symptoms persist without seeking advice or treatment from your doctor.