Do you have a friend that is your go-to person for your thoughts and questions about life? Your conversations are unfiltered—she knows just about everything going on in your life and you know all about hers. However, diarrhea makes the short list of things you normally don’t talk about. This is not a glamorous topic, and certainly one you don’t casually mention over lunch. But it’s important to understand the causes of abdominal pain and diarrhea, when to wait for symptoms to subside, and when to contact your physician. We’ll uncover the most common causes and the best solution for each situation so you don’t have to ask your friend.
Common Causes of Diarrhea and Abdominal Pain
Diarrhea and acute abdominal pain often go hand in hand. Here are the most common causes:
Infection: A bacterial infection can occur if you consume contaminated food or drink. You can also catch a viral infection by being around someone who already has the virus. This is typically considered the stomach flu.
The solution: Drink plenty of fluids, get some rest and take over-the-counter medication to relieve your discomfort. Usually, symptoms of acute abdominal pain and diarrhea subside after a few days. If it’s simply a bacterial infection, you may begin feeling better after a few hours.
Overeating: Your digestive system is not designed to consume a large amount of food at one time. Overeating often leads to stomach pain, discomfort, bloating, and diarrhea.
The solution: The pain and diarrhea will subside without medical attention. If you are prone to overeating, measure out your food and be aware of portion control. Chew slowly and eat at a table without distractions so that you are focused on your food and when you begin feeling full.
Food Reactions: If you have an adverse reaction to certain foods, you may experience abdominal pain and diarrhea. This can be caused by a sudden change in diet, eating fatty foods, and eating foods to which you are sensitive or allergic. People with celiac disease may experience abdominal pain and diarrhea after consuming gluten.
The solution: The best way to avoid pain and discomfort is to avoid the foods to which you are sensitive. If you are unsure what specific foods are causing a problem, keep a food diary and note when you experience pain or diarrhea. If your diarrhea is a reaction to food, your symptoms should subside a few hours after you have eaten. Ongoing exposure to gluten can cause serious damage to a celiac patient. Celiac should not be self-diagnosed.
Stress: Diarrhea and abdominal pain can also be associated with stress. Digestive problems and bowel movements can be stimulated by anxiety.
The solution: When you begin to feel stressed and anxious, take time to exercise, practice meditation or mindfulness, use deep breathing techniques, or participate in art or music therapy. Taking care of your mental and emotional health will simultaneously help you take care of your gut health.
Medication: There are several medications with a side effect of diarrhea. It may be normal for you to experience abdominal pain and diarrhea when you take antacids with magnesium, antibiotics, too many laxatives, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, chemotherapy.
The solution: Wait a few days for your body to adjust to this new medication. However, if symptoms persist after several days or your abdominal pain worsens, contact your doctor.
IBS: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder that causes persistent diarrhea and abdominal pain. It does not harm the digestive system, but it is something that should be monitored by a gastroenterologist.
The solution: If you have IBS, you can experience relief from symptoms by managing your stress level, exercising regularly, drinking enough water, adjusting your diet, and getting enough sleep. Your doctor may be able to provide medications to help reduce the severity of your symptoms.
IBD: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for chronic diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Abdominal pain and diarrhea are two potential symptoms for this disease. If you do not address IBD, you risk damaging your digestive tract.
The solution: Talk to your gastroenterologists about changing your diet and taking medication in order to reduce inflammation. You can experience seasons of remission, where symptoms are not present, but you must enlist help from your doctor. In many of these cases, abdominal pain and diarrhea do not last for more than two to three days. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids and replenish electrolytes during this time.
If your diarrhea is persistent or your abdominal pain is severe, schedule an appointment with Dr. Sameer Islam. Don’t be embarrassed to ask us your questions—that’s what we’re here for.