Chronic Diarrhea: What Are the Causes and How to Get Relief

Chronic Diarrhea: What Are the Causes and How to Get Relief

  • Gut Health

  • By Jef L’Ecuyer, Registered Dietitian

    Chronic diarrhea is a problem affecting approximately 5% of the population and is defined by loose stools, increased stool frequency, or increased urgency lasting for more than four weeks.1 The causes of chronic diarrhea can range from diet to medication, surgery to radiation therapy and working with your healthcare practitioner is essential to get to the root of the problem and address any potential issues that may arise from it (dehydration, nutritional imbalances, etc.).

    If you are someone who suffers from chronic diarrhea, it is common to look to antidiarrheal therapy to mitigate some of the symptoms. As the microbiome is such a vital part of our intestinal health, it is also critical to understand how chronic diarrhea may impact the microbiome and what to do to best support yourself.

    In this article we will answer the question "Do probiotics for diarrhea help?" as well as discuss the causes of diarrhea and the best ways to get relief.

    Defining Diarrhea & Chronic Diarrhea

    Diarrhea is best defined as frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements.2 In acute diarrhea instances, diarrhea is typically caused by a virus or bacteria.2 It may also be the result of antibiotic therapy, antibiotic associated diarrhea results from the disruption of the normal microbiota that resides in our gut.Some symptoms associated with diarrhea include:

    • Watery diarrhea (watery stool)
    • Stomach cramps or stomach pain
    • Abdominal cramps
    • Severe dehydration
    • Headache
    • Vomiting

    Diarrhea is defined as “chronic” when it lasts for longer than four weeks. This type of diarrhea is generally not infectious but instead the result of an issue that is altering normal gut motility and transit time.

    That being said, chronic diarrhea is very different from acute diarrhea. Acute diarrhea ranges from mild to severe diarrhea symptoms that typically resolve within 3-7 days. Mild diarrhea could be caused by a new food or medication that did not agree with you. For example, if you are traveling you could possibly experience traveler’s diarrhea (or traveler's constipation) from being in an unfamiliar place and eating new foods. Whereas, severe diarrhea could result from food poisoning, dehydration, a bacterial infection, viral infection or stomach flu.

    While these are instances of common diarrhea experiences--it is important to note that they are not examples of persistent diarrhea. If diarrhea stools persist over time -- this could be a sign of chronic diarrhea.

    What Causes Diarrhea?

    Causes of Chronic Diarrhea

    Food Intolerance: occurs when something in a food (e.g. lactose, soy, gluten) irritates a person’s digestive system and cannot be properly digested.This is different from a traditional food allergy.

    Antibiotic Therapy: while antibiotics are great at killing bad bacteria or infectious gut bacterium they also kill off good bacteria. This creates an unstable gut microbiota that enables the growth of diarrhea-causing gut bacteria (like C. difficile).5 Antibiotic-associated diarrhea may also result from a decrease in the metabolism of carbohydrates and bile acid.5

    Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)those who suffer from IBS typically experience abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating and constipation along with diarrhea. If you think you might suffer from IBS look to see if you fit these criteria and follow up with your doctor.

    Inflammatory Bowel Disease (like Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease): both of these ailments are serious diseases affecting the intestine, causing abdominal pain, discomfort, fatigue, food triggers, and frequent bouts of diarrhea. If you suffer from either of these, it is recommended you work closely with a healthcare practitioner to determine the best course of action for you.

    Diarrhea and Your Microbiota

    The human microbiota consists of the 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells, these being primarily bacteria in the gut.6 Our ability to understand this complex system in our body is ever-evolving but what is certain is that the microbiota plays an important role in regulating our digestion, metabolism, inflammation and overall systemic responses in the body.

    When your gut microbiome becomes imbalanced (otherwise known as gut dysbiosis) from bacterial overgrowth, it can result in a chronic bout of diarrhea. When harmful bacteria begin to outnumber the beneficial bacteria in your body, your digestive tract will no longer be able to function normally. But, unfortunately, any bout of acute or chronic diarrhea, regardless of the cause, can strip the bacteria in your gut and result in gut dysbiosis, which can exacerbate the issue creating a very uncomfortable negative feedback loop. Regardless of the cause, any type of chronic diarrhea can have lasting effects on your body and your health, so it is absolutely critical to be both proactive and reactive with probiotic supplementation.

    Chronic Diarrhea Treatment

    Treatment for chronic diarrhea will be highly personalized based on your specific issue that is at the root of it. We can’t reiterate this enough, but if you are experiencing chronic diarrhea, it is important to work with a healthcare practitioner and address your individual needs.

    That said there are a few lifestyle tips that anyone suffering from digestive upset can benefit from.

    To support your gut and reduce diarrhea, the following are critical to consider: 

    1. Eat a Mindful Diet

    Food can either be the root issue (like lactose intolerance) of chronic diarrhea or exacerbate other issues (like inflammatory bowel disease). If you suspect a particular food or food group may be behind chronic diarrhea, it is advised to keep a food journal of what you ate and how you felt after to inform your healthcare team better. If you aren’t sure of whether or not a specific food is behind your digestive issues, you could also try an elimination diet, avoiding the main culprits like gluten, dairy, soy, alcohol, fried foods, or spicy foods to see if that improve your digestion.7

    If you have been suffering from a recent bout of diarrhea and have an upset stomach, you may want to support your digestive system with easy to digest foods such as bananas, rice, oats and crackers. Consider adding an electrolyte drink in daily, too, to replenish lost fluids.8

    2. Limit Stress

    Stress is an environmental factor that manifests itself in many ways in our bodies. If you are familiar with the gut brain axis, you know that, in addition to other issues, stress can result in chronic diarrhea. This makes stress management an important factor to pay attention to. Plus, stress can have a major influence on your immune system and other overall health. If you think stress is taxing your gut flora and causing frequent bouts of diarrhea, consider exploring ways to manage your gut brain connection daily through a calming outlet. This might include exercise, meditation, yoga, massage, reading, or writing.

    3. Take a Daily Probiotic

    If you have ever wondered, “Do probiotics help with diarrhea?”, the answer is yes. When suffering from diarrhea, supporting your gut flora with a probiotic supplement is imperative to help repair or maintain the balance of good bacteria. Healthy, live bacteria from an effective probiotic strain can do wonders in not only healing an imbalanced or leaky gut, but it can also prevent further issues from arising in the first place. In fact, scientific research shows that when taking a high-quality probiotic supplement, the incidence of diarrhea is resolved at a faster rate than when not taking a probiotic.

    Choosing to use a high-quality probiotic that contains Lactobacilli cultures will effectively combat symptoms of gut dysbiosis and help repair the microbiome. The three unique strains of probiotic bacteria contained in Bio-K+ probiotic products, which are of human origin, work in synergy with the families already present in our digestive tract to stimulate growth and repopulation of good bacteria in our bodies and help eliminate the cause of diarrhea.

    If you have questions about the best probiotic for diarrhea or about your intestinal health, or the human microbiota in general, reach out to us in the comments below. Join our community for more healthy tips and probiotic product recommendations. To stock up on Bio-K+, click here to shop probiotics. Contact us or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

    © 2021 Bio-K +, a Kerry company. All Rights Reserved. Bio-K Plus is a registered Trade Mark of Kerry Group 










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    Jef L’Ecuyer Registered Dietitian
    About the author
    After her nutrition training at McGill University, Jef specialized in gastrointestinal health with a special interest in the microbiota and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. With Bio-K+, she continues on this path by making the world of probiotics more accessible to all.
    View all articles by Jef L’Ecuyer
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