Diarrhea is a condition in which you experience loose, watery stools which can occur more frequently than usual. It can be hard to enjoy a meal when it is followed by diarrhea and can lead to anxiety about eating anything. It is acute diarrhea when it comes on suddenly but goes away after a few days. If it lasts more than 3 weeks, then it is chronic diarrhea which can be a sign of a more serious condition. In the case of chronic diarrhea, you should seek medical attention to treat the underlying condition as well as any complications such as dehydration.
Symptoms of Diarrhea After Eating
There are a few signs and symptoms. These include:
- Frequent watery, loose stools
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Blood in the stool
- Nausea and vomiting
When to See a Doctor
For an adult, you should seek medical attention if:
- The diarrhea persists after a few days.
- You have severe rectal or abdominal pain.
- You have black or bloody stools.
- You have a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
- You become dehydrated, the symptoms of which include dry mouth or skin, excessive thirst, severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness, little to no urination or dark urine.
In children, diarrhea can lead to dehydration quickly and can be life-threatening to babies and young children. Seek immediate medical attention if your child’s diarrhea has not improved after 24 hours or if your baby:
- Has a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Hasn’t wet a diaper in over three hours.
- Has a dry mouth or cries with no tears.
- Has black or bloody stools.
- Has a sunken appearance to the eyes, cheeks, or abdomen.
- Has skin that doesn’t go smooth after a quick pinch.
- Is unusually drowsy, sleepy, irritable, or is unresponsive.
Causes of Diarrhea After Eating
Below are some of the more common causes of both acute and chronic diarrhea.
Acute diarrhea is described as the sudden onset of loose, watery stools that may last a few days. There are some common causes of diarrhea that can come on soon after eating anything. Eating stimulates the muscles in the large intestine to empty the bowels. But due to an underlying cause, these movements can be stronger, creating a sense of urgency and causing pain. Common causes of acute diarrhea include:
- Viral infections. Viruses are passed on from person through contact with an infected person, or contact with infected surfaces, utensils, and other sources. Diarrhea is a common symptom of viral infection, especially from Norwalk virus, cytomegalovirus, viral hepatitis, adenovirus and calicivirus and is sometimes referred to as a stomach flu. Rotavirus is a common cause of acute diarrhea in children.
- Bacterial infections. Diarrhea caused by bacteria can be a symptom of food poisoning. Any bacteria that is passed on through improperly handled or cooked food can cause diarrhea. Bacteria include campylobacter, shigella, E. coli, Salmonella, V. cholera, and Staphylococcus aureus.
- Parasites. Parasites that cause acute diarrhea are commonly passed through contaminated food that has not been handled or cooked properly. Parasites that cause diarrhea include cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, and Tapeworm.
- Medications. The most common medication that cause diarrhea is antibiotics because it destroys both bad and good bacteria in the intestinal tract. This can allow for an infection from the bacteria Clostridium due to the disturbance of the body’s natural balance of bacteria.
- Lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products that some people have difficulty digesting. An enzyme that is normally released to help in the breakdown of lactose diminishes after childhood and those who do not make enough of this enzyme can commonly experience diarrhea.
- Fructose. While naturally found in fruit, fructose is also added to many products as a sweetener. An overabundance of fructose can cause gastrointestinal upset in some people, leading to diarrhea.
- Artificial sweeteners. Certain artificial sweeteners such as mannitol and sorbitol can cause gastric upset in even healthy people. These sweeteners can be found in chewing gum and sugar-free products such as beverages.
Chronic Post-Prandial Diarrhea
There are a number of conditions that can cause chronic diarrhea, which can last for longer than 3 weeks. Eating can easily act as a trigger for an episode of diarrhea. These conditions include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Microscopic colitis
- Post-surgery, especially gallbladder removal
Treatment for Diarrhea After Eating
Most incidences of acute diarrhea will clear up on its own within a few days after its onset. There are a few things you can do at home to help ease your symptoms until it goes away, as well as medications available through your doctor or the over-the-counter ones.
1. Home Remedies
- Keep hydrated. Your body will lose fluids and nutrients that are moving too quickly through your system to be absorbed. You should have at least one cup of liquid after every bowel movement and include liquids such as broth, water, and clear fruit juice. Be sure to avoid carbonated drinks, alcohol, and anything with caffeine such as coffee.
- Consider taking probiotics. Probiotics are strains of good bacteria that are similar to what is normally found in your gut. They can add to the number of bacteria present in the intestinal tract to help fight germs. You can eat low-fat yogurt or try an over-the-counter supplement.
- Avoid foods that can worsen diarrhea. Certain foods can worsen the diarrhea or prolong it. These foods include:
High fat meat, rich desserts and foods with added oil, butter, margarine, sour cream, cream cheese or salad dressing
Sugar-free gum, sugar substitute packets used for coffee or tea, diet soda, and sugar-free candy
Broccoli, beans, peppers, berries, peas, chickpeas, prunes, corn and green leafy vegetables
Milk, ice cream, soft cheeses such as cottage cheese or ricotta, butter
Foods sweetened with sugar alcohols
Reduced-calorie sweetener such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol
Some raw fruits with thick peels, dried fruits, raw vegetables, whole grains, oatmeal and shredded wheat
White bread, white rice cakes, pretzels and graham crackers
- Eat safely. Always make sure that the food you eat has been handled and prepared safely. Wash your hands with warm soapy water before handling any food and thoroughly wash any fruits and vegetables that you are eating. You should also make sure that all the touched surfaces of the food has been washed, as well as cooking utensils. Make sure everything is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit and store away any leftovers immediately to prevent the formation of bacteria. It is a good idea to avoid dairy products when suffering from diarrhea even if you are not lactose intolerant, as it can still irritate your intestinal tract.
Besides the suggestions above, you can also try the following tips to ease your symptoms:
- Plan your meals to make sure that they are small.
- Eat low-fiber and semisolid foods gradually as bowel movements return to normal. Try toast, soda crackers, eggs, rice or chicken.
- Eat some salty foods, such as crackers, pretzels, or soup.
- Consume high potassium foods, such as bananas, fruit juices without pulp, and potatoes without the skin.
If home remedies and lifestyle changes have not worked for you, your physician can recommend medications or other treatments. These include:
- Antibiotics. If your diarrhea is caused by parasites or bacteria, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics. They won’t help, however, if it is caused by a virus.
- Anti-diarrhea medications. Medications such as Kaopectate, Imodium, or Pepto-Bismol can help, but may make the situation worse if your diarrhea is caused by bacteria, parasites, or a virus, or if you have black or bloody stools. Consult your physician before taking any medications.
3. Tips for Chronic Post-Prandial Diarrhea
- Ensure that you have a proper diagnosis.
- Be sure to follow all of your doctor’s instructions.
Below is a video with some additional home remedies to help you cope with the symptoms of diarrhea after eating.