Runs. Squirts. Trots. You know what I’m talkin’ about. We’ve covered constipation in the past so today, we’re exploring the other side of the toilet seat—diarrhea.
Although diarrhea is often only a brief, uncomfortable and certainly inconvenient visitor, it’s usually just a sign that a particular food didn’t agree with you, your period is about to hit or you’re under some extra stress. When that’s the case, recovering is usually simple—an extra glass of water, some probiotics and easy-to-digest foods, like brown rice and cooked veggies, for a few days.
But, what about diarrhea that sticks around for more than 24 hours or so? Persistent and chronic diarrhea can be signs of something bigger that needs your attention. And, that’s what we’re going to address. People don’t always feel comfortable talking about this stuff so I’ll lay it all out for you. To start, let’s break down the different types of having to go-go-go:
What Causes Diarrhea + The Different Types
- Acute Diarrhea: This type comes and goes pretty quickly, and is usually because of food poisoning, a viral infection (rotavirus in kids and norovirus in adults), stress-fests, PMS or could even be the result of jumping into a higher fiber or raw food diet too quickly. It generally takes a few days to recover and then a day or two more to form a normal bowel movement (BM) again. Usually, all it takes to restore your healthy gut bacteria and get back on track is drinking plenty of fluids, eating foods that are more gentle on your digestive system and easing slowly into raw, high-fiber foods and green juices. By slow, I mean no more than 1 extra serving of raw, high-fiber foods and 8 ounces of green juice per day until your body adjusts. Probiotics and digestive enzymes may help ease the transition, as well.
- Persistent Diarrhea: This one lasts an uncomfortable amount of time, usually 2-4 weeks, and typically starts as the acute variety but continues on for more than 14 days. If you’ve experienced this, it’s most likely because your immune system was on the fritz, you continued to eat a problematic food or your diet was lacking certain nutrients.
Treatment includes throwing back some extra H2O (so every time you “go”, you should drink a glass of water), popping a daily multivitamin to help replace any nutrients that have been lost and taking a probiotic to help restore healthy bacteria. And since this type can lead to dropping some lbs, it’s usually recommended that you consume plenty of high-calorie but easy-to-digest foods, such as oils, avocados, hemp seeds and dried fruit—as long as they aren’t the ones causing the problem!
- Chronic Diarrhea: This type is very watery (sometimes bloody) and lasts more than four weeks. There are many root causes but, generally, it’s a sign of an underlying intestinal problem that has resulted in malabsorption and inflammation. Other common causes include fat malabsorption (due to low levels of pancreatic enzymes) or carbohydrate malabsorption (which can result from lactose intolerance).
More specifically, the most common causes of chronic bloody diarrhea are inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. Other less common causes include colon polyps or colon cancer, or parasites like giardiasis. It’s also worth mentioning that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can result in chronic diarrhea and often alternates with constipation and abdominal pain.
How to Prevent Diarrhea
Sometimes, you just can’t prevent an unfortunate case of the runs but avoiding it whenever possible is a win-win! Plus, it’s easy to take these simple precautions. The biggies include washing your hands periodically throughout the day, taking a daily multivitamin to prevent deficiencies (plus a daily probiotic), staying hydrated and identifying food sensitivities.
When to See Your Doc About Your Diarrhea
Regardless of the type, if you have diarrhea and you’re experiencing weight loss and/or signs of dehydration, you should check in with your doctor as soon as possible. Signs of mild to moderate dehydration include dry mouth, sleepiness, bad breath, muscle cramps, headaches and dark yellow urine. But, you may be severely dehydrated if you’re extremely thirsty, experiencing confusion or unusual irritability, have very dark yellow urine or skin that doesn’t bounce back when pinched on the top of your hand.
Even if you’re not dehydrated, it’s time to pay a visit to your doc if you’re experiencing chronic diarrhea. He or she can run bloodwork to check for pancreatic enzyme levels, anti-gliadin antibodies present in celiac disease, vitamin deficiencies, parasites and even look at your digestive tract. Your wellness is worth the trip!