Common Causes of Diarrhea and Constipation

Common Causes of Diarrhea and Constipation | Dr. Ali Ghahary

There are many reasons why someone may develop constipation or diarrhea. Diarrhea, which is characterized by loose, watery stools and the urge to have a bowel movement, is typically acute and only lasts for one or two days. If your diarrhea lasts for at least four weeks or more, then it is considered acute and could be due to an underlying health condition. Constipation, which is the opposite of diarrhea, is characterized by the stool that is hard, as well as the inability to have a bowel movement or having bowel movements less than three times per week.

Diarrhea Causes, Treatment
What causes diarrhea will differ from person to person. It could be due to a food intolerance (such as being lactose intolerant), food poisoning, food allergy, a side-effect of medication (many different antibiotics, for example, are known to cause diarrhea), a viral infection, bacterial infection, parasitic infection, intestinal disease, or from stomach or gallbladder surgery. In cases where diarrhea is chronic, it could be the symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (also commonly known as IBD) or inflammatory bowel disease.

Along with loose, watery stools, other symptoms that may come along with diarrhea include bloody stools, nausea, abdominal pain (such as cramping), bloating, fever, and dehydration due to the fact that diarrhea can cause one to lose fluids quickly. If you do develop dehydration as a result of having diarrhea, you may also notice that you feel fatigued, have a dry mouth, increased thirst, feel lightheaded, have a headache, increased heart rate, and decreased urination.

In order to determine the cause of diarrhea, your doctor may refer you for different tests, which may or may not include medical imaging tests (to check for any intestinal abnormalities or any inflammation), fasting tests (to determine whether the diarrhea is caused by a food intolerance or allergy), as well as stool cultures or a colonoscopy to check for any bacteria, parasites, or if there are further signs of disease.

Treatment for diarrhea is usually dependent on the severity of the symptoms and cause, though the most common treatment method for reducing diarrhea is to replenish lost fluids – especially if one develops dehydration as a result of having diarrhea. In the event that you do develop symptoms of dehydration but cannot keep fluids down, then you may need to be admitted into the emergency room to receive fluids intravenously. There are also over-the-counter medications that can help relieve diarrhea, such as bismuth subsalicylate and loperamide.

Constipation Causes, Treatment
The most common cause of constipation is diet. For example, diets that are higher in meat, as well as certain dairy products such as milk and cheese. Constipation can also be caused from lack of exercise, avoiding or delaying bowel movements, certain medications (such as antacids that are high in calcium as well as pain relievers), pregnancy, and travel. There are also some underlying medical conditions that can contribute to constipation, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, stroke, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, and under-active thyroid.

If no underlying medical conditions are the cause, the best way you can relieve constipation is to change your diet. Dr. Ghahary recommends drinking at least 8 glasses of water each day, while you should reduce consumption of alcohol and caffeine. In addition, you should also add more foods that are rich in fibre to your diet – such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – and you should make sure your daily fibre intake is a minimum of at least 20 grams. In addition to changing your diet, you should also make sure you get a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week (at least 30 minutes per day.) In some cases, diet and exercise won’t always necessarily be enough to relieve constipation. If this is the case, you may also need to take a fibre supplement, probiotics, or turn to laxatives and enemas – though these should not be used on a long-term basis.