Most of the time we know what caused our diarrhea, right? You had a meal and within 2 hours you were stuck on the toilet. Or you had some ice cream and an hour later the diarrhea hit you. Or maybe it was the next morning. But what is it about that meal or that ice cream that has you screaming, "I hate diarrhea!"? Or what about other times when diarrhea seems to come out of nowhere? What caused it then?
I'm going to share with you a number of causes of diarrhea. Once you know the different ways diarrhea can happen, you'll be able to more easily identify the exact source in your particular situation.
On the surface, diarrhea isn't a complicated condition. There's a simple explanation for every case of diarrhea. That's right... a very simple explanation. Want to hear it? Here's the cause... Diarrhea happens because not enough water is extracted from your stool in the large intestines (colon). Hurray! We figured it out! Well, not exactly because this leads us to another question... Why wasn't enough water extracted from your stool in the large intestines?
There are 3 common causes that interfere with the proper amount of water getting extracted from your stool in the large intestines. They are a bug, a foreigner, and a bug killer.
The bug that causes diarrhea is bacteria. There are many different types and strands of bacteria, and a couple of examples of these bugs are E. coli and Salmonella. Have you experienced what I'm about to describe, or do you know someone who has... You know someone that is very nice and then meet his or her cousin only to find out that the cousin is a jerk? Well, now you understand E. coli. If you've heard of E. coli before, you may be imagining a very harmful bacteria. But that's only half of the story. You see, E. coli lives in our large intestines and it's a good thing. This version is "very nice" and helps us digest our food. Yes, it's true! But then there's another E. coli with the same name, but a much different result. This is the "jerk" cousin.
The "jerk" version of E. coli can be found on unwashed vegetables or contaminated meat. If we eat food that is contaminated with this version of the bug, we let the "jerk" loose in our digestive tract. Not a good idea! This bad bacteria will reek havoc and disrupt the normal digestion process and result in... you guessed it... diarrhea.
Another cause of diarrhea is a foreigner. You may have invited a diarrhea causing foreigner to dinner with you and not even known it. The foreigner I'm talking about is a substance that is foreign to your body that causes an allergic reaction, or allergy. You might be wondering what I'm talking about. Here's the bottom line... food allergies can cause diarrhea. One well-known food allergy that can cause diarrhea is lactose, found in milk and diary products. Our ability to digest lactose typically decreases as we get older. So lactose can become a foreign object to the small intestines and result in methane or hydrogen gas being produced. This gas, in addition to causing bloating and other conditions (I'll discuss these in another article), disrupts the digestion process and... you got it... results in diarrhea.
Lactose is just one example of a foreign substance that can cause diarrhea. There are many other foreigners that can cause diarrhea in people that are sensitive to them, including wheat and gluten.
What does a bug killer have to do with diarrhea? If your diarrhea wasn't caused by either of the previous two causes, then another possibility is that it was caused by a bug killer. The bugs I'm talking about are the billions or trillions of bacteria that are in your intestines right now. Don't be alarmed! These are the "nice" guys. They are the good bacteria that help digest food and are essential for normal digestion and normal stool.
Normal digestion is disrupted by the bug killer. The bug killer is anything that kills these good bacteria such as antibiotics or chemotherapy. It's hard to believe at first, but it's true. The treatment that you're given by your doctor can have negative side effects. One side effect that has become more widely talked about in recent years is the killing of the good bacteria by treatments that are given to you. Your doctor prescribes an antibiotic to kill the jerk E. coli or another type of infection, and the antibiotic does its job. The infection is gone. But at the same time, many of the good bacteria that live in your intestines are also killed. Know what happens next? Without enough good bacteria in your intestines, the digestion process is disrupted and causes... diarrhea.
We have gone over 3 common causes for diarrhea. Keep in mind there are other more serious causes such as Celiac disease or Chron's disease that have to do with narrowing of the intestines or deterioration of the intestine walls. For all types of diarrhea, dehydration is a big concern especially with kids and the elderly. When in doubt if your situation needs medical attention, ask your doctor.