Bloating, gas, and watery, soft bowel movements characterize loose stool or diarrhea. While some causes of diarrhea can be attributed to singular instances such as eating too much greasy or spicy food or alcohol consumption, others are more serious, from a virus to an underlying digestive disease or illness. Recurring diarrhea can result in dehydration and other complications.
Changes in Diet
Some people cannot digest lactose, gluten, or alcohol sugars, and eating them results in loose stools or a bout of diarrhea (frequent loose stools over a period of days). Sugar alcohols exist in fruits, vegetables, and artificial flavorings. Greasy food with high amounts of fat, or overly spicy foods can cause excess mucus to form in the gut and small intestine, making the food travel faster and causing looser stools.
Infections or Food Poisoning
Certain bacterial infections, especially those in undercooked or improperly handled food, can cause loose stools and bouts of diarrhea. E.coli, salmonella, and trichinosis are common foodborne illnesses caused by microbes. Contaminated water can also contain high levels of diarrhea-causing bacteria. To avoid contracting these illnesses, store perishable food below 40 degrees and heat meals to temperatures over 145 degrees. Wash fruits and vegetables completely, and thoroughly wash the hands before preparing food.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic health condition characterized by frequent “flare-ups” or bouts of diarrhea or constipation. Abdominal pain, bloating, and gas also affects people with IBS, as do stress, poor dietary choices, and alcohol consumption. Eating mild foods and limiting dairy and fast food can reduce the severity of flare-ups. Therapy and mindfulness can help people reduce the amount of stress in their lives.
Ulcerative colitis occurs when the colon and rectum become inflamed, resulting in loose (sometimes bloody) stools. In addition to diarrhea, abdominal pain, frequent gas, and fatigue may also be present. Less common symptoms include joint pain and pain in the eyes, as well as mouth ulcers, loss of appetite, and rapid weight loss.
Similar to ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease is a chronic, autoimmune condition in which the lining of the digestive system becomes inflamed. It can cause diarrhea and loose stools, as well as abdominal pain and fatigue, bloating, and blood in the stool. While the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are similar, the underlying causes and treatments can vary.
Celiac disease causes a severe immune reaction to gluten, a protein in wheat and other foods. Diarrhea or loose stool is a common side effect when a person with Celiac’s consumes gluten. Other, less extreme forms of gluten intolerance — non-celiac gluten sensitivities — can also cause diarrhea and other adverse gastrointestinal symptoms.
Bile Acid Malabsorption
Bile is produced in the liver and helps the gut break down food into the separate nutrients for absorption and delivery throughout the body. Some chronic conditions can cause degenerative effects on the liver and gallbladder, impairing the action of bile and preventing the proper breakdown of fats in the intestine. Gallstones and liver cirrhosis are two such conditions. Bile acid malabsorption can cause diarrhea or loose stools.
The thyroid gland regulates metabolism, the speed at which we digest and create energy from food. Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid, which results in excess production of certain hormones. Poor sleep, mood instability, and swelling around the neck are common symptoms. When the thyroid gland produces too many hormones, interference with bodily functions can cause loose stools or diarrhea.
Chronic pancreatitis is a long-standing inflammation of the pancreas that causes changes in the structure and function of the pancreas. The two major causes of chronic pancreatitis are chronic alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking.The pancreas becomes inflamed and this inflammation impairs the proper breakdown of fats, starches, and proteins. Chronic pancreatitis causes loose stools, vomiting, cramps, and nausea.
People who have had weight loss surgery, including gastric bypass and gastric sleeve, are unable to eat certain foods, drink much alcohol, or consume large portions. Refined sugar and high-fat foods can trigger what is known as “dumping syndrome,” which is exactly what it sounds like. The surgically altered digestive tract is incapable of digesting the food, and as a result, the food moves rapidly through the gut, causing painful cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.