What are the causes of loose stools?

Written by cindi pearce
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Diarrhoea or loose, watery stools can be caused by a host of factors. Diarrhoea, which comes from the Greek word "diarrhoia," which means "a flowing through," normally resolves itself within a couple of days, and you are soon back to normal. However, there are times when diarrhoea is chronic and results in dehydration. Dehydration is particularly dangerous for an infant or elderly person. When this occurs, you must see a doctor and get immediate treatment.

Bacterial and Viral

If you are suffering from a bacterial infection, such as salmonella, shigelle, E. coli or campylobacter, which can be acquired from eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, this can result in loose bowels. Viral infections, such as heptatis, herpes simplex virus, Norwalk virus, rotavirus and cytomegalovirus can also result in diarrhoea.

Other Possibilities

Parasites that may be present in water or food can enter your body and plop themselves into your digestive system. Parasites that result in diarrhoea include Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia and Cryptospordium. If you have Crohn's disase, inflammatory bowl disease, coeliac disease or colitis, this can cause diarrhoea as can a reaction to certain medications including antacids that contain magnesium, blood pressure drugs, antibiotics and cancer medications.

Additional Considerations

Some individuals can't tolerate foods that contain lactose or artificial sweeteners and if eaten this can lead to loose bowels. If you have had gall bladder-, stomach- or prostrate surgery, you may experience diarrhoea in the aftermath. Stomach surgery speeds up the movement of food through the digestive system. Gall bladder surgery can result in an increase in the amount of bile present in the colon.

When You Travel

If you travel to a foreign country and drink contaminated water, you may end up with "traveller's diarrhoea."

Common Disorder

When an individual suffers from IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, this can result in diarrhoea or constipation. This is a common disorder that results in gas, bloating and cramps, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. IBS can be triggered by alcohol or chocolate milk products and caffeine. Women who have IBS seem to get worsened symptoms during their menstrual period, likely because of the hormones that are involved. A person who has IBS may suffer from both sporadic diarrhoea and constipation.

Other Causes

<p>Medicinenet.com points out a variety of other conditions that may cause loose stools including fecal impaction, dehydration, diabetes, colon cancer, Addison's disease, HIV, the stomach flu (medically referred to as gastroenteritis), toxic shock syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and hyperthyroidism (an overly active thyroid.)


Diarrhoea can cause loss of fluid in the body and result in dehydration. Dehydration must be treated promptly. If you have had diarrhoea for more than three days and are experiencing severe pain in the rectum or abdomen, have a fever of 102F or higher, are becoming dehydrated and notice that your stool has become black and tarry or there is blood in it, call your doctor. Dehydration will produce lightheadedness, thirst, less frequent urination and dark-coloured urine as well as dry skin and fatigue. An infant who is dehydrated will not produce tears when crying, will be listless, have a dry tongue and mouth, hasn't wet a diaper in three hours or longer and may have a high fever and a sunken abdomen, eyes and/or cheeks.

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