If you thought diarrhea is a condition that plagues most people in their childhood, you’re highly mistaken. Even when you’re well into your adult years, it happens suddenly like a bolt from the blue. In fact, odds are good you’ll experience it several times in your life; some people grapple regularly with loose, watery stools. And while most cases can be embarrassing and not too serious, diarrhea can be fatal and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
According to the World Health Organization, diarrhea claimed about 1.4 million deaths in the year 2015.1 These statistics and the unpleasant nature of this condition have led health experts to try and pinpoint the reasons why we fall so horribly sick. Here are 5 of them.
1. You Have A Virus
Viruses are one of the most common causes of diarrhea. Rotavirus and norovirus are the most notorious for causing diarrhea can easily be spread by oral-fecal contamination, even in the tiniest of amounts.
You can easily catch viruses by touching door handles, taps, soda dispensers, the creamer at a coffee shop, or even by being around people fighting off similar strains. The good news, however, is that these bugs are not serious most of the times and clear up shortly.
Prevent it: Washing your hands is the best way to keep pathogen transfer at bay so do not be lazy about it, especially when visiting public washrooms. Make it a habit of scrubbing your hands well with hot soapy water after using the bathroom and before you sit down to eat.
2. Your Food You Ate Was Contaminated/ Spoiled
For all the ways that your food can contract germs and disease-causing microbes, your immune system seriously deserves a round of applause for keeping you so well protected. But sometimes, it’s possible that your food was just a little too contaminated for your stomach’s liking and that is when it can give you a serious case of diarrhea.
It could’ve been leftovers that have begun to decay, or produce that wasn’t washed properly, or perhaps the food was left to sit outside the refrigerator for far too long. You should know that all of these reasons make for very strong diarrhea triggers.
Prevent it: This may seem like we’re stating the obvious, but we can’t emphasize on this point enough – wash your groceries, greens, fruits, and meats thoroughly after you buy them. Make sure to cook them for a long time to kill those harmful viruses and bacteria and do not allow the temperature of your food to fluctuate between hot and cold too often. Additionally, remember to throw away leftovers after a day; these are usually the best breeding grounds for diarrhea-causing microbes.
3. You Ate Something You’re Not Used To
Did you change up your diet recently? Did you perhaps increase your fiber intake or double your usual serving of caffeine?
When you give your body a taste of something new or suddenly increase your normal quantity of consumption, it’s very likely you will experience digestive issues.
Prevent it: Whether it’s a new item you’re adding to your daily menu or whether you’re upping your intake of something you were already eating, make sure to do it slowly. Your body takes time to adjust to new conditions and allowing it to handle these changes in small increments will either help you digest these better over time or will teach you to stay away from certain foods altogether.
4. You Unwittingly Ate Something You’re Sensitive To
Lactose-intolerance is commonly associated with diarrhea. But besides this naturally occurring milk sugar, you could have an underlying sensitivity to something different altogether, such as gluten in wheat or certain meats. Some foods are high in FODMAPS (fermentable oligo- di- and mono-saccharides and polyols) which are basically sugars that are a little more difficult for your system to digest.
Your intestines will try to ferment them, but since these have a tendency to draw water to the gastrointestinal tract, they can lead to bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Prevent it: Keeping a food diary will help you keep track of any particular foods that may be triggering your diarrhea. Some people may have single to multiple food intolerances. Such people may find it helpful to stick to a limited range of foods for some time before re-introducing the problematic foods one at a time to check for a reaction.
Be careful; FODMAPs are everywhere, from milk and grains to fruits and vegetables. Therefore, learning your triggers can be especially tricky and should be done under the guidance of a nutrition professional.
5. You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Diarrhea that occurs immediately after a meal can also be attributed to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), where diarrhea is actually one of the most predominant symptoms. IBS is a functional bowel disorder which doesn’t have an underlying disease process. It is also a condition where the exact cause remains a mystery.
Prevent it: While there is no cure for IBS, there are some things you can do to manage your symptoms. You could infuse your diet with fluids and fiber-rich foods to encourage healthy bowel movement while avoiding large meals that may increase the load on your intestines. Maintaining a food diary can also help you keep track of your IBS triggers so you can make better dietary decisions in the future.
Stress is often very common in most IBS patients. Therefore, seeing a counselor can also help manage one’s IBS symptoms.
Lastly, your doctor may prescribe you certain medications and supplements to soothe your IBS symptoms. These may include fiber supplements, antispasmodic agents as well as antidepressants.
6. You Drank Far Too Much
Guzzling too much alcohol, especially beer, is practically synonymous with staying glued to the potty.
When it comes to most foods, the digestion story starts in the stomach. But that’s not the case for alcohol. Most of what you drink doesn’t get absorbed at all; instead, it just sits there till it gets pushed into your small intestine.
When this happens, the colon-dwelling bacteria get into a major feeding frenzy at the sight of the booze that hasn’t been broken down. Alcohol also has the tendency to stimulate your intestines to make waves, causing them to spew out fluids and electrolytes while overloading your system with carbs. All of this contributes to bloating and diarrhea.
Prevent it: Once again, stating the obvious. Don’t drink beyond what you can handle. Also, the next time you go out drinking, make it a habit to alternate every helping of beer with an equal helping of water. This will make you full and you probably won’t feel like more beer (which not only reduces your chances of diarrhea but also of being hungover).
7. Your Medicines Are Wreaking Havoc On You
Plenty of commonly prescribed medications can give you nasty poop. Antibiotics, in particular, can give you terrible diarrhea, because they destroy both good and bad gut bacteria, thus disturbing the natural balance of your gut flora. Cancer drugs, magnesium-containing antacids, and even large quantities of certain vitamins from supplements also have some serious diarrhea-causing potential.
Even large quantities of certain vitamins from supplements (including Emergen-C) can cause diarrhea.
Prevent it: If you’re suspicious that your medicines are to blame, talk to your physician to see what it is that is giving you diarrhea and whether there is a better alternative.
8. You’re Stressed
Having a lot on your mind can put tremendous pressure on your gut and vice versa. Turns out, the human brain and the nervous system are connected with another kind of nervous system that lies in the walls of the intestine. So sometimes, it may not be something that you ate that’s necessarily causing you diarrhea. Instead, it may just be that you’ve swallowed your feelings of anger, anxiety, or sadness, which, in turn, is messing up the nervous stimuli, chemical secretions, and microbiota that are responsible for keeping your bowels operating smoothly.
Prevent it: According to both gastroenterologists and psychiatrists, it’s apparently not too uncommon for acute gastrointestinal events to come to a glaring halt after a patient ditches a bad relationship or quits a stressful job.
So the next time you experience diarrhea, try and ask yourself if you’re stressed. Next, ask yourself what the trigger is. You may want to then take the necessary steps to either help you deal with it better or to cut it out entirely from your life. Also, learn from this and learn to go with what your gut says when making difficult decisions, henceforth.