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Diarrhea is a specific and very common disorder characterized by an increase in the amount, frequency and wateriness of bowel movements.

Although normally the colon can absorb several times more fluid than is required on a daily basis, this condition occurs when the colon’s capacity is significantly exceeded. Usually, diarrhea is not a serious condition - it occurs more than three times in one day, may last a day or two, and then goes away on its own.

There are two typesof diarrhea, acute and chronic. Acute diarrhea lasts for 1 to 2 weeks. Chronic diarrhea is an ongoing problem, lasting for longer than 2 or 3 weeks. Unlike the acute type, chronic diarrhea may be a nuisance for a healthy person, but for someone who has a weak immune system, it may even become a life-threatening illness.

Mechanism of the condition

The mechanism of diarrhea is well studied and experts say that the real cause of diarrhea are the osmotic substances. These substances with osmotic properties are capable of drawing water to the intestine. They are present in the stool, forcing water from the intestines to be excreted, resulting in looser stools. Bloating and flatulence often occur too.

Possible causes of chronic diarrhea

Several studies done in the past have shown that there are many causes of diarrhea. In most cases, changes in bowel habits characteristic to diarrhea are short lived and clear up on their own. Whenever diarrhea lasts more than two or three weeks, getting medical help is generally recommended.

Some of the most common causes of diarrhea are: 


It is a well known fact that most people experience diarrhea after eating a certain type of food. Different types of food cause different diarrhea patterns. For example, many people are intolerant of milk and milk products so even small amounts of the milk sugar (lactose) can cause diarrhea. Others have low tolerance for hot pepper. It is also proven that large amounts of fatty foods cause diarrhea in some people. Some types of sugar may also cause diarrhea. The artificial sugar sorbitol, which is normally used as a sweetener and particularly in diet gums and candies is proven to have properties that can cause diarrhea. Mannitol is another sweet substance frequently found with sorbitol which may cause diarrhea.

Chemical Laxatives

Although sometimes laxatives cannot be avoided or they are even recommended, many people become dependent on them early in life and use them on a daily basis.

The most commonly used are:

  • magnesium (Epsom salt),
  • cascara (Nature's Remedy),
  • phenolphthalein (Exlax, Correctol, Feen-A-Mint)

Prescription Drugs

If a change in bowel habit occurred after taking a new drug, that could be the possible cause of diarrhea and the physician should be contacted. It is well known that antibiotics may cause diarrhea. Diarrhea can develop up to one month after taking antibiotics.


There are many different bacteria and many viruses and other infectious agents that find their way into our bodies and cause diarrhea. One of the most serious bacterial infections that can cause diarrhea is salmonella infection.  It is rather serious and requires medical evaluation. Salmonella usually comes from contaminated poultry. Other bacteria that can cause diarrhea are: Campylobacter, Clostridium difficile, Escherichia coli, Listeria onocytogenes, Shigella etc.

There are also some parasites, such as amoeba and giardia, Cryptosporidium parvum, Cyclospora cayetanensis, Entamoeba histolytica that attack the intestines and cause diarrhea. Virus infection is probably the most common cause of the short term diarrhea and, fortunately, it usually clears up on its own. The most common viral infections related to diarrhea are HIV, rotavirus, Norwalk agent etc.

Traveler's Diarrhea

This is a very common and very specific condition that has long been observed as a separate condition. It is now proven that the cause of traveler's diarrhea is a toxic bacterium called Escherichia Coli. the good thing is that this infection can often be prevented by avoiding fresh, uncooked products and fruits. It can also come from the non-bottled beverages.

Certain Diseases

Several researches have proven that there are certain intestinal disorders that can cause chronic diarrhea. These include ulcerative and microscopic colitis, Crohn's disease, diverticulosis, and even colon cancer. Diabetes, thyroid and other endocrine diseases also cause diarrhea in most of the cases. There is no need to point out that these are all serious diseases that require careful medical attention and treatment. 

Stress and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a problem that occurs when the intestines, especially the colon, do not contract in a smooth, rhythmic manner. It is characterized with abdominal pain, distention, and stool with mucous. Sometimes there is alternating constipation and diarrhea. It is proven that emotional stress often aggravates these symptoms.


Certain foods that cannot be absorbed properly are passed into the stool, resulting in diarrhea in an attempt to excrete them. Besides diarrhea, symptoms include weight loss, and nutritional deficiencies. The cause of this condition may be bacterial overgrowth, chronic pancreatitis, previous intestinal resections, and lymphatic obstruction.

Motility disorders

It occurs as a result of too rapid a transit of intestinal materials, allowing insufficient time for food and water to be absorbed.

Food allergies

The fact is that true food allergies are rare as a cause of chronic diarrhea and persons allergic to some foods such as strawberries or shellfish experience only a short-lived intestinal upset.

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