What causes Diarrhea? All to know about it and when to see a Doctor

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Passing a completely liquid stool frequently can be dangerous.

You may ask how. Well, the simple answer is ‘dehydration’. The more loose stools you pass, the more fluid you lose and the more likely you are to be dehydrated.

Dehydration can be deadly and so must be avoided at all cost.

In this article, we will be explaining several causes of loose watery stools, we will also go through the possible dangers of passing them and then tell you how it is treated.

Poop Basics

Poop, which can also be referred to as feces, stool or excreta, are solid and semisolid remains of undigested food from the intestines. Surprisingly, water makes up 75% of our poop, while the other 25 percent consists of bile, undigested materials like fiber, fat, inorganic salts, mucus and dead bacteria.

Normal poop is soft and firm, elongated like sausage and passes out with ease.

According to the Bristol Stool Chart  – a chart designed to categorized poop, normal poop is categorized as type 3 or type 4 while loose or liquid poop is categorized as a type 6 or type 7.

The type 6 means your poop has a mushy constituency with ragged edges while the type 7 is when your poop has a liquid constituency with the absence of solid pieces.

Liquid poop can occur in association with gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea and sometimes vomiting. It’s important to note that it isn’t every time you pass a loose stool that you have diarrhea. Diarrhea has a specific definition.

According to The World Health Organization (WHO), diarrhea is defined as the passage of three or more loose or liquid stools per day (or more frequent passage than is normal for the individual). It should be noted that frequent passing of formed stools is not diarrhea, nor is the passing of loose, “pasty” stools by breastfed babies.

Why do I Have Diarrhea?

The end product of your ingested substance is poop through the anus. When you eat, food travels through the digestive system and are broken down for the purpose of absorption of nutrients and water.

Food consumed gets partly digested in the stomach and it is passed out into your small intestine as a semifluid mass called chyme. Nutrients are absorbed from the chyme as it passes through your small intestine and later flows into your large intestine (colon) where water is reabsorbed. This changes the liquid chyme to a solid stool.

Liquid poop occurs when there is an excessive fluid inflow from your small intestine to your large intestine preventing water absorption. It can also be as a result of damage in your large intestine or its inability to reabsorb water effectively. These disturbances seen in the small intestine or large intestine are seen in various diseases.

12 Causes Of Liquid Poop Or Loose Stool

1. Diet

Caffeinated foods and beverages:

Caffeine is a stimulant that naturally occurs in food and beverages like coffee, chocolate, tea, soda, and kola nuts. It has laxative potential which means it stimulates the intestinal muscles allowing food to move faster without being absorbed. Drinking two or more cups of coffee or caffeinated tea in a day can cause loose stools.

Oily and spicy foods:

This can be a problem because not everyone can tolerate oily and spicy food. Spicy food can irritate your stomach leading to loose stools.

Oily or fatty foods that are not properly absorbed goes to the large intestine where they are broken down to fatty acid causing your large intestine to secrete more fluid into your stool.


Drinking a small amount of alcohol speeds up digestion hence preventing your large intestine to absorb water. In contrary, drinking a large amount can delay digestion resulting in constipation.

It can also irritate your digestive tract, which can worsen diarrhea. Scientists have found this occurs most often with wine, which tends to kill off helpful bacteria in the intestines.


FODMAPs means fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. It is a group of poorly digested or absorbed sugars. They include fructose, lactose, sugar alcohol like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol and can cause loose stools.

Other sources of FODMAPs are wheat, rye, onions, garlic, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), honey, pistachios, cashews, and asparagus.

Sugar and Sugar substitutes:

Sugars stimulate your intestines to secrete water and electrolytes which help to loosen your stool. Sugar substitutes or sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol, aspartame, mannitol found in sugar-free gums, candies or medications can also play a role.


It is a protein found in wheat, rye, beer, barley can trigger diarrhea in people who are gluten- sensitive.

3. Lactose Intolerance

It is a digestive disorder caused by the inability to digest lactose due to insufficient enzyme lactase. Undigested lactose in your small intestine causes water to move out from your intestines leading to the passage of loose stools.

4. Medications:

Many medications such as antibiotics, chemotherapy, antacid with magnesium and laxative can cause loose stools.

5. Infection:

This accounts for most cases of diarrhea (watery diarrhea). Diarrhea is the symptom of infections caused by a host of bacterial, viral and parasitic organisms, most of which are spread by feces-contaminated water or from person-to-person as a result of poor oral hygiene.

Common bacteria that cause diarrhea are Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Shigella. Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium are examples of parasites that can cause diarrhea. Diarrhea caused by bacteria and parasites when traveling to developing countries is often called traveler’s diarrhea.

Diarrhea-causing viruses include Norwalk virus, Cytomegalovirus, Viral Hepatitis, and Rotavirus. Rotavirus is the common cause of acute childhood diarrhea. Chronic cases of infectious diarrhea are seen in immunocompromised patients such as HIV/AIDS due to opportunistic infection and poorly managed diabetes. It can also occur in Clostridium difficile infection.

There are three clinical types of diarrhea:

  • Acute watery diarrhea: lasts several hours or days.
  • Acute bloody diarrhea: also known as dysentery.
  • Persistent diarrhea: lasts for 14 days and longer.

6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):

Frequent passage of loose stool (diarrhea) is one of the symptoms of IBS. Although, there could be constipation. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, excessive gas and mucus in the stool.

IBS causes alternate strong intestinal muscle contractions which lead to loose or liquid stools and weak intestinal muscle contraction leading to constipation.

7. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD):

It is a broad term used to describe disorders that cause chronic inflammation in your digestive tract. It includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It presents as abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, fatigue, reduced appetite, weight loss or blood in your stool. Diarrhea occurs when the affected part of your intestine is unable to reabsorb water.

8. Celiac disease (Spure):

It occurs as an immune reaction to gluten causing damage to your small intestine lining. Loose stools caused by celiac disease is due to maldigestion and malabsorption of nutrients.

9. Malabsorption syndrome:

This results in the failure of your small intestine to absorb nutrients which leads to decreased water absorption in your large intestine.

10. Psychological factors:

Stress, anxiety, and depression can change your bowel movement. They stimulate faster movement resulting in a loose or liquid stool.

11. Dumping Syndrome:


This is more common among people who have weight loss surgery or gastric surgery. Hence, food moves too fast through the small intestine, so loose stools happen. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramp or pain, sweating, dizziness, feeling full after small meals.

12. Hyperthyroidism:

It is the increase in thyroid hormones in your body consequently affecting the metabolism of your body. The rate of metabolism is increased in hyperthyroidism and it is possible this has an effect on your bowel movement.

Now that we have gone through likely causes, what are the dangers of passing loose stools?

Dangers Of Passing Frequent Loose Stools

1. Dehydration:

Water content and electrolyte are lost in the liquid stool. In diarrhea, it can be life-threatening if they are not replaced.

Symptoms of dehydration in adults:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth or skin
  • Little or no urination
  • Weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Dark-colored urine

Symptoms of dehydration in infants and young children:

  • Not having a wet diaper in three or more hours
  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Fever above 102 F (39 C)
  • Crying without tears
  • Drowsiness, unresponsiveness or irritability
  • Sunken appearance to the abdomen, eyes or cheeks

2. Malnutrition:

This can occur when nutrients are not absorbed due to a rapid movement of food content in the digestive system.

How Is Loose Stool Treated

Loose stools are temporarily and would resolve on its own. However, it is important to understand that loose stools can be deadly if dehydration sets in. So, steps must be taken to get rehydrated and to see a doctor if you continue to pass several loose stools.

Some people are at a higher risk of having loose stool. High-risk people include those who have irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, dumping syndrome, and malabsorption syndrome.

However, these are some immediate measures you can use to stop loose stool:

  • Stay hydrated. Drinking clear fluid like water and juice.
  • Rehydration: with oral rehydration salts (ORS) solution. ORS is a mixture of clean water, salt, and sugar. ORS is absorbed in your small intestine and replaces the water and electrolytes lost in your stool.
  • Zinc supplements: They reduce the duration of a diarrhea episode by 25% and are associated with a 30% reduction in stool volume.
  • Nutrient-rich foods.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages.
  • Avoid food and drinks that trigger it.
  • Consume more fibers.
  • Taking anti-diarrhoeal medications. Loperamide (Imodium A-D) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), might help reduce the number of watery stools and control severe symptoms.

Other measures include:

  • Dietary changes
  • Medication changes
  • Taking probiotics
  • Treating the medical condition causing loose stool

When To See A Doctor

It is important to see your doctor when your symptoms get worse and if you experience these associated symptoms:

  • Severe dehydration
  • Fever
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in your stool


We have gone through different causes, complications, and treatment of liquid, loose stools, and we are sure you fully understand how diarrhea works and how it can lead to dehydration.

By staying hydrated using Oral rehydration solution (ORS) and knowing when to go to a doctor, you can avoid getting dehydrated and other complications of loose stools.

Source: 25doctors.com

ABOUT: Nana Kwesi Coomson

[email protected]

An Entrepreneur and Philanthropist. Editor-in-Chief of www.233times.com. A Senior Journalist with Ghanaian Chronicle Newspaper. An alumnus of Adisadel College where he read General Arts. He holds first degree in Bachelor of Arts from the University of Ghana; Political Science (major) and History (minor). He has also pursued MSc Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Energy with Public Relations (PR) at the Robert Gordon University in the United Kingdom. He is a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow who studied at Clark Atlanta University in USA on the Business and Entrepreneurship track. His mentors are Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffet, Sam Jonah, Kwaku Sakyi Addo and Piers Morgan

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