Common Causes of Chronic Diarrhea
Paula Gallagher, MFN, RD, LD
Diarrhea is a condition that causes watery or loose stools, and it can occur on an acute or chronic level. Acute diarrhea lasts from a few days to two weeks and is typically caused by some types of bacteria or virus. Chronic diarrhea persists longer than acute diarrhea – usually longer than four weeks. Chronic diarrhea can significantly impact a person’s life and be quite bothersome, even debilitating if left untreated. Below are a few common causes of chronic diarrhea and how they are usually treated.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a frequent cause of chronic diarrhea. IBS can cause abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, gas, and bloating. Numerous triggers can cause symptoms of IBS, including food, stress, and physical activity. The BRAT diet – bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast – has been a staple of many doctors’ recommendations for individuals suffering from IBS with diarrhea and those with other gastrointestinal symptoms. This diet may help decrease symptoms of diarrhea because it is a bland food diet that is low in fiber.
Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID)
CSID, also known as sucrose intolerance, can cause diarrhea, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain in both children and adults. Typically, symptoms manifest more severely in the younger population. CSID occurs due to a reduction of the enzyme activity that is needed to assist the body in breaking down sucrose and other sugars from starch. CSID can be diagnosed by your doctor using a disaccharidase activity test. Additionally, a non-invasive sucrose breath test can also aid your doctor in confirming the diagnosis. Individuals with CSID work with healthcare professionals to develop a low-sucrose diet that helps control the symptoms of this disorder along with pharmaceutical therapy.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
The two most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both conditions cause widespread inflammation in the digestive tract. The inflammation in IBD can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, and other symptoms. IBD can be diagnosed by your physician using a physical examination, blood and stool tests, and a medical history. Diet recommendations for IBS vary greatly and range from a low-fiber diet to a low-fat diet.
Food Allergies and Food Intolerance
Food allergies can cause diarrhea in some individuals. The most common food allergens are wheat, soy, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and milk. Food allergies can be diagnosed by blood or skin prick testing. It is necessary for those with food allergies to avoid the allergen that causes them to react. People can be intolerant to a food without being allergic to it. A food intolerance can occur when an individual ingests a food, but their body is unable to properly break it down. The most common food intolerance is lactose intolerance. Most food intolerance diagnoses are made based on medical and symptom history. Food intolerances are generally treated by working with healthcare professionals to design a diet to reduce the symptoms brought on by the particular food.
To Sum Up
While chronic diarrhea can significantly interfere with your life, your physician may be able to diagnose the condition that is triggering your symptoms. Food, lifestyle factors, and stress may all be playing a role in your symptoms. With the right diagnosis, you can take the proper steps to minimize or even eliminate your symptoms.
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