Diarrhea (diarrhea) – these causes can be behind it!

Diarrhea (diarrhea) – these causes can be behind it!

Everyone has diarrhoea – be it from stress, because of a spoiled meal or as a result of a traveller’s diarrhoea on vacation. But if diarrhoea occurs constantly or chronically or, for example, always after eating greasy dishes, it is advisable to research possible causes. Colour and consistency can also reveal some of the triggers of diarrhoea. Yellow or green diarrhoea can also explain possible causes, such as watery or slimy diarrhoea. Here, you can find out what can be behind the complaints.

What is diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea or diarrhoea (diarrhoea) is when loose, mushy, or watery stools occur more than three times a day. Other symptoms, such as abdominal pain, flatulence or nausea, can also occur.

The causes of diarrhoea are, for example, pathogens or toxins that colonize the intestinal mucosa or damage its cells. The mucous membrane can no longer absorb water from the chyme – the chyme is more liquid than usual. When the body tries to excrete the harmful invaders as quickly as possible, it loses even more water and electrolytes (mineral salts).

In the case of acute diarrhoea, the symptoms last from a few days to two weeks; in the case of chronic diarrhoea, the symptoms occur again and again in quick succession over several weeks.

What are the causes of diarrhoea?

There are a variety of causes that can disrupt our intestinal flora and thus lead to diarrhoea. In addition to infections, medication or spoiled food can also be the cause. Diarrhoea can also occur with stress, food intolerance or various diseases. In the following, we present multiple causes and typical signs.

diarrhoea from infections

Viruses, such as rotavirus or norovirus, cause about a third of all cases of diarrhoea. If the gastrointestinal flu (gastroenteritis) is triggered, diarrhoea usually occurs suddenly and in connection with nausea and profuse vomiting, sometimes with abdominal cramps. The diarrhea often appears liquid like water, and a rotavirus infection possibly causes mucus admixtures. An infection with adenoviruses is usually accompanied by severe, watery diarrhoea in combination with abdominal pain or vomiting.

In addition, pathogenic bacteria can stress our intestines and cause diarrhoea. Coli bacteria often cause traveller’s diarrhoea; other bacterial pathogens include salmonella, listeria, shigella, helicobacter pylori and Yersinia.

On the other hand, the so-called amoebic dysentery is caused by a unicellular parasite that poses a danger, for example, on long-distance trips to the tropics. Worm diseases can also result in diarrhoea.

Yellow or green diarrhoea is considered a possible indication of an intestinal infection.


diarrhoea from medication

Some medications can cause diarrhoea as a possible side effect. Antibiotics, which are supposed to eliminate harmful bacteria, can lead to diarrhoea. They act not only on the “bad” pathogenic germs but also on our intestinal flora’s “good” bacteria, which support our digestion and immune system in the intestine.

Excessive use of laxatives can also cause diarrhoea. Diarrhoea is also a common side effect of treatment with cytostatics, for example, in cancer therapy. Many other medications can cause temporary diarrhoea, including pain relievers and diuretics. Taking large amounts of magnesium can also cause diarrhoea.

diarrhoea from poisons

Some diarrheal diseases are not caused by bacteria themselves but by toxic metabolic products of the bacteria. For example, food poisoning is caused by certain staphylococci or clostridia. Campylobacter bacteria are also among the pathogens ingested through food, and their toxins can cause watery diarrhoea.

The heavy metals mercury and lead can also interfere with digestion, leading to diarrhoea. In addition, poisoning is also possible, for example, through the consumption of poisonous mushrooms.

Other symptoms, in addition to diarrhoea, can be severe abdominal cramps, vomiting and fever, headaches and body aches, dizziness, and respiratory and cardiac dysfunction are possible in the event of poisoning.

Diarrhea due to a food allergy or intolerance

Allergies or intolerances ( e.g. lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance) to certain foods can manifest themselves in very different ways – a common symptom is diarrhoea. As a result, diet can play an essential role in diarrhoea, as well as before and after. Diarrhea often occurs shortly after eating. Bloating, abdominal pain, or abdominal cramps can accompany diarrhoea.


Diarrhea due to chronic inflammatory bowel disease

Diarrhea often occurs with chronic inflammation of the intestines. These diseases include Crohn’s diseaseirritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis. In these diseases, the intestinal mucosa is permanently damaged by inflammation and can only absorb water from the chyme to a minimal extent, which can result in chronic diarrhoea.

Mucus and blood in the stool are just as possible as abdominal cramps. If diarrhoea often occurs in the morning after getting up, it could be due to irritable bowel syndrome.

diarrhoea from other diseases

In addition to intestinal diseases, allergies and intolerances, numerous other diseases can lead to diarrhoea. Possible causes are, for example, inflammation of the large intestine, the intestinal diverticula (diverticulitis) or the gastric mucosa. Diverticulitis manifests itself, for instance, through diarrhoea in connection with flatulence; the diarrhoea can appear mucous or even bloody. Diarrhea with blood from the stomach or small intestine often appears dark brown or black (tarry stools), while fresh blood (such as from the anus) can cause bright red stools.

Ulcers, polyps or tumours can also cause diarrhoea. If diarrhoea alternates with constipation, this could be an indication of colon cancer.

Diarrhoea after eating greasy food can be a sign of fat indigestion. For example, this can be caused by problems with the bile or pancreas. Excessive fat loss often causes light-coloured, grey, or ocher stools. When greasy food, alcohol, coffee or foods containing sugar cause diarrhoea in combination with heartburn, an overproduction of stomach acid is often to blame for the symptoms.

diarrhoea due to stress

Stress or anxiety can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract – especially during a difficult exam or before an important lecture; many people not only suffer from sweaty palms or nervousness but also from intestinal problems that can cause diarrhoea.


diarrhoea during pregnancy

If diarrhoea occurs during pregnancy, this is often the result of physical (non-hormonal) changes or a changed diet because many women change their diet in early pregnancy. The digestive tract of pregnant women is often more sensitive than usual and, therefore, more sensitive to food. Mild diarrhoea, often alternating with constipation, is not uncommon. However, prolonged or severe diarrhoea during pregnancy should be medically clarified.

Clarify causes medically

A doctor should always check out bloody, purulent or mucous diarrhoea. This also applies to severe, long-lasting diarrhoea, diarrhoea after travelling to tropical countries or if other symptoms such as high fever, severe pain or a general feeling of illness appear.

Babies, small children, or the elderly should be particularly careful because there is a risk of dehydration if they have diarrhoea. This can manifest in drowsiness, dizziness, dark urine or circulatory problems, among other things. Medical advice should also be sought immediately if poisoning is suspected.

The causes of diarrhoea can often be determined through an appropriate conversation. Central aspects are:

  • timing and circumstances of occurrence
  • duration
  • colour, smell and consistency
  • frequency
  • accompanying symptoms
  • eating habits
  • Pre-existing conditions and medication use

In addition, various examinations can be carried out. Depending on the suspected trigger, stool or blood samples, for example, can provide further information on the causes of diarrhoea, and a colonoscopy may also be necessary.

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