What Conditions Cause Chronic Diarrhoea?

In this article, we investigate what conditions can cause chronic diarrhoea and ways to manage.

What Conditions Cause Chronic Diarrhoea?

In this article, we investigate what conditions can cause chronic diarrhoea and ways to manage.

Everyone will experience an episode of diarrhoea at least once in their lifetime, with the average adult getting it at least 4 times a year [1]. Most cases thankfully aren’t severe, and usually resolve without treatment after 48 hours.

But some people experience diarrhoea consistently, and for a longer duration of time than just 48 hours. This is considered chronic diarrhoea - which is defined as a period of liquidy or loose stools, urgency and/or abdominal discomfort that lasts more than four weeks [2].

It’s a common symptom, with an estimated 5% of the population experiencing chronic diarrhoea, and 40% of those cases occur in people aged 60 years and over [3].

Chronic diarrhoea can be a symptom of multiple different conditions - keep reading to understand what chronic diarrhoea is and what it could indicate.

What is Chronic Diarrhoea?

As mentioned, chronic diarrhoea is defined by medical professionals as passing three or more stools daily that are liquidy or loose, sometimes accompanied by urgency to go to the bathroom and abdominal pain or discomfort, that lasts for at least four weeks.

Diarrhoea, whether short-term or chronic, is also associated with more frequent bowel movements and passing a higher volume of stool per day than is considered ‘normal’.

As well as having loose stools, chronic diarrhoea can have other symptoms alongside it, such as:

Even though diarrhoea is a common gastrointestinal issue, consistently experiencing it is not normal and you should see your doctor or treating health professional for advice and treatment.

You should seek immediate medical advice if chronic diarrhoea is happening in a child under the age of five [4], or if you notice blood in the stool and/or are experiencing dehydration.

What Can Chronic Diarrhoea Be a Symptom of?

While short-term diarrhoea is usually caused by a bacterial infection (like E. Coli) or virus, chronic diarrhoea is often a symptom in a broad range of conditions, including:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
    IBS is a common gastrointestinal issue, experienced by approximately 11% of the global population [5]. It’s characterised by abdominal pain and dysfunctional bowel habits, which can be predominantly diarrhoea (IBS-D), constipation (IBS-C) or both (IBS-M).
  • Crohn's Disease:
    Crohn’s Disease is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that causes inflammation (swelling) of the digestive tract (usually the intestines) that leads to symptoms like abdominal pain and severe diarrhoea, which can cause fatigue, malnutrition and unexplained or unintentional weight loss.

    While there is no cure for Crohn’s Disease, its symptoms can be effectively managed with medical treatment.
  • Ulcerative Colitis:
    Ulcerative Colitis is another type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Like Crohn’s, it causes chronic inflammation of the colon and rectum, but it can also cause ulcers in the digestive tract. This results in diarrhoea, blood or pus in the stool, fever and abdominal pain or discomfort.

    Unfortunately, there is no cure for ulcerative colitis, but thankfully symptoms can be effectively managed with medical treatment.
  • Coeliac Disease:
    Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein that is found in wheat, rye and barley. When individuals with this condition consume gluten-containing foods, it triggers an immune response where the body begins attacking itself, causing inflammation and damage to the small intestines, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea

    It can also lead to longer-term complications if left untreated, including nutrient malabsorption resulting in malnutrition, type 1 diabetes and bowel cancer.
  • Food Intolerances:
    Certain food intolerances can cause diarrhoea, excess gas, bloating and abdominal pain after the allergen is consumed - for example, those with lactose intolerance will experience these symptoms after eating or drinking dairy products containing lactose.
  • Clostridium Difficile Infection:
    Clostridium difficile (also referred to as C. diff) is a bacteria that causes chronic diarrhoea and colitis (colon infection), and most often occurs after taking antibiotics, being the cause of approximately 25% of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea [6].

    A C. diff infection has the potential to be life-threatening, however, it can be treated - usually with antibiotics, or a faecal transplant for severe or recurrent infections.

Since chronic diarrhoea appears as a symptom in a range of gastrointestinal disorders, it’s crucial to see your GP for evaluation in order to have the cause diagnosed and to receive appropriate treatment.

How to Manage Chronic Diarrhoea

Treatment for chronic diarrhoea differs depending on the underlying cause, so the first step should always be to consult your doctor. They will be able to refer you for any tests or specialist appointments that may be required, as well as be able to prescribe medications and recommend the best treatment plan for your unique situation.

As well as visiting your doctor, there are some general things you can do from home to help feel better while experiencing it:

  • Stay hydrated
    When experiencing diarrhoea, we tend to lose a lot of water and electrolytes, which can result in dehydration. This is why it’s important to stay hydrated when you’re experiencing diarrhoea, so be sure to drink plenty of water or consider taking an oral rehydration solution (such as Hydralite) which you can purchase from a chemist.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol
    Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics and contribute to dehydration - so, it’s best to avoid any food or beverages containing them while you have diarrhoea.
  • Use incontinence aids for faecal leakage or incontinence

    Since watery stools are harder for our rectum to hold onto, faecal leakage or bowel incontinence is a common occurrence in individuals who experience chronic diarrhoea.

    Our range of Dailee pull-up pants are suitable for active wearers with faecal incontinence, and contain odour-neutralising material that works for up to 12 hours at a time - so you can have peace of mind knowing you're protected from any leakage.

Our range of Dailee slips are a great option for those who are less mobile or require care and experience faecal incontinence. They’re equipped with the same 12-hour odour-lock, with the added benefit of being easy to change due to their velcro tabs.

  • Keep a bowel diary

    Keeping note of your bowel movements with a bowel diary can provide helpful information to your health professionals, and can aid in developing treatment or management plans.

While chronic diarrhoea can be uncomfortable, it’s essential to visit your treating health professionals to avoid any serious complications like dehydration and to be accurately diagnosed and treated to manage the condition.

*This article is for informational purposes only.

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