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Diarrhea After Eating

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Updated July 10, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Woman holding her stomach in pain
Photo: Kondoros Eva Katalin/Getty Images

Diarrhea is never pleasant, and when it happens right after eating, it becomes hard to enjoy a meal. You may become wary of what to eat, and anxious about eating anything at all. This article will cover the most common causes of diarrhea after eating, known formally as postprandial diarrhea, with some self-care strategies for addressing the problem. The first half of the article will cover acute diarrhea; the second half will address what may be behind a chronic problem.

Acute Diarrhea Causes

Acute diarrhea is a sudden onset of diarrhea episodes. The following is a list of the most common causes of acute diarrhea. With any of these conditions, diarrhea may occur after eating, as the simple act of eating stimulates muscle movement within your large intestine to empty your bowels. Because of the underlying illness, these contractions may be stronger and more painful than usual, and come with a sense of urgency. The overall increase in the frequency of evacuation due to the underlying problem results in stools that are watery and loose, as the stool is not present in the large intestine long enough for fluids to be drawn out.

  • Bacterial infections, e.g. Salmonella, E. Coli
  • Viral infections, commonly referred to as the "stomach flu"
  • Parasites, e.g. Giardia
  • Medications, e.g. antacids, antibiotics, chemotherapy
Care of Acute Diarrhea

1. Stay hydrated: You will need to replace the fluids and minerals that your body is not absorbing due to the rapid transit of stool through your system. Try to ingest water, broth, and clear fruit juice.

2. Don't rush to an over-the-counter diarrhea product such as Imodium, Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate. These products should not be used if you are suffering from bloody stools, and/or have been diagnosed with a bacterial or parasite infection. Otherwise, they may be of help in terms of reducing diarrhea episodes. These medications should not be given to children without permission from the child's doctor.

3. Be careful with your diet and only eat small meals. The following articles offer some helpful food tips:

When to Call Your Doctor

You should call your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Blood in your stools
  • Dehydration, e.g. decreased urine, dry mouth, sunken eyes
  • Fever above 100 or that lasts more than three days
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Worsening of diarrhea symptoms, or if diarrhea is still present two days later in an infant or child, and five days later for an adult.

For further information, see:

Chronic Post-Prandial Diarrhea Causes

The following health problems may all result in chronic diarrhea. Eating a meal may serve as a trigger for a diarrhea episode.

What to Do for Chronic Post-Prandial Diarrhea

1. Make sure that you have a proper diagnosis.

2. Follow your doctor's orders to best manage your underlying health problem.

3. Eat small meals and avoid fatty foods, e.g. fried food, fatty meats and thick gravy. Large meals and fatty foods can increase the strength of intestinal contractions and thus prompt a diarrhea episode.

4. Click here for some stress management techniques to keep your anxiety level low. Due to the brain-gut connection, anxiety can be a trigger for diarrhea.

Related Reading from Dr. Bolen:

Sources:

"Diarrhea" Mayo Clinic Accessed January 23, 2013

"Diarrhea" Medline Plus Accessed January 23, 2013.

"Diarrhea" National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) Accessed January 23, 2013.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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