Illnesses & Symptoms
What is Chronic Diarrhea?
Chronic diarrhea (diarrhea lasting over 2 weeks) can be from many causes. The most common are infections, medications, intestinal disorders, thyroid problems, food intolerances/allergies, or hereditary disorders. It can often be difficult to diagnose, but an exam, a review of weight history, stool and blood tests, are useful.
How is Chronic Diarrhea evaluated?
Not all tests need to be done on each person with chronic diarrhea, but the history and exam will guide the practitioner ordering the tests. Stool can be checked for blood and bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Up to three stool studies are often needed to show the infection. Blood can be tested for various things, such as thyroid levels, allergies to foods, celiac disease screenings, inflammatory bowel screenings, and more.
Causes of Chronic Diarrhea
- Infectious causes include parasites, bacteria, and viruses. Each is treated based on the infection.
- Toddler's diarrhea is common between 6 and 30 months and usually resolves by 4 years of age. Children with toddler's diarrhea have 2-6 watery stools daily, which may contain pieces of undigested foods. Treatment involves limiting carbohydrates, including fruit juice, high fructose corn syrup, and other high sugar foods. Increase the fat and fiber in the diet, which seems to help the diarrhea. Probiotics can help with many digestive problems. They can be found in your pharmacy in powder, capsule, chewable, and liquid forms. Ask your pharmacist which is right for your child.
- Intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disese, or ulcerative colitis, are each treated specific to the disease.
- Medications that cause diarrhea include antibiotics and laxatives. Stopping the medication and using probiotic is usually helpful. If the antibiotic caused an overgrowth of a type of bacteria called Clostridium difficile, another antibiotic will be needed to stop the diarrhea.
- Food allergies and intolerances include cow’s milk protein, soy protein, lactose, fructose, and gluten, among others. Identifying and avoiding the offending food can help.
- Postinfectious diarrhea is prolonged diarrhea after a stomach illness. It is caused by a temporary intolerance to lactose (in cow’s milk). Stopping cow’s milk for several weeks and using probiotics usually helps.
- Other less common causes include cystic fibrosis, enzyme deficiencies, pancreatitis, and immune deficiencies.