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Chronic Diarrhea

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is chronic diarrhea?

Diarrhea is chronic when it occurs 3 or more times a day for more than 4 weeks.

What causes chronic diarrhea?

Chronic diarrhea is often a symptom of an illness, infection, or other condition.

  • Trouble digesting foods, such as lactose (a sugar found in dairy products), fats, caffeine, or alcohol
  • Stomach or intestine conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, or an autoimmune disease such as celiac disease
  • Thyroid and pancreas disorders and cancers
  • Infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites
  • Medicines such as laxatives, antibiotics, and some heart medicine, or certain minerals, such as magnesium
  • Surgery or procedures on your stomach or bowels, especially if it damages muscles that control bowel movements

What are the signs and symptoms of chronic diarrhea?

  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Urgent need to have a bowel movement, or loss of bowel control
  • Itchy blistering rash
  • Weight loss
  • Anal irritation and inflammation

How is chronic diarrhea diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask you about your symptoms. Tell him if you have noticed any unusual color or smell to your bowel movements. Tell him if you have blood, mucus, or oil droplets in your bowel movement. He may ask if you have noticed symptoms after you eat certain foods. Tell your healthcare provider if you have travelled recently or been around others with the same symptoms. You may need the following tests:

  • Blood tests may show infection. They will also give information about your overall health.
  • A bowel movement sample may be sent to a lab to help find the cause of your chronic diarrhea.
  • Colonoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy, is a procedure to examine the inside of your colon (large intestine). A flexible tube with a small light and camera on the end is used.

How is chronic diarrhea treated?

Your treatment will depend on the condition causing your chronic diarrhea. Treatment may include any of the following:

  • Drink more liquids to replace body fluids lost through diarrhea. You may also need to drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has the right amounts of sugar, salt, and minerals in water to replace body fluids. ORS can be found at most grocery stores or pharmacies. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Medicines may be given to slow your diarrhea, or to treat an infection. You may also be given medicines to decrease inflammation in your intestines.

What can I do to manage my symptoms?

  • Do not drink or eat foods that may make your symptoms worse. These include milk and dairy products, greasy and fatty foods, spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol. Keep a food diary to see if your symptoms are caused by certain foods. Bring this to your follow-up visits.
  • Eat foods that may help your symptoms. These include bananas, boiled potatoes, cooked carrots, cooked chicken, plain rice, and toast. You can also try yogurt and applesauce. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you increase the amount of fiber you eat. Fiber can add bulk to your bowel movements.
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Germ-killing hand gel is available if you are not near water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diaper, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your skin, mouth, and tongue are dry, and you feel very thirsty.
  • You have blood or pus in your bowel movement.
  • You have trouble eating, drinking, or keeping food down.
  • You have severe abdominal pain.
  • You feel lightheaded, weak, or you faint.
  • Your heart beats faster than normal or you have trouble breathing.
  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have new symptoms.
  • Your symptoms do not improve, or they get worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2017 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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