Non-stop diarrhea may be a cause for concern but most of the time it is short-lived and does not lead to any serious problems if properly managed. The main danger with diarrhea is dehydration. However, dehydration can be prevented. Even when it does arise, dehydration can be effectively treated if attended to early. Nevertheless, non-stop diarrhea should not be ignored whether it is acute or chronic.
What is non-stop diarrhea?
Non-stop diarrhea is where there is profuse diarrhea and there are repeated bowel movements one after the other. This is in the acute setting and tends to last for a few days to a week at most. Non-stop diarrhea may also refer to prolonged diarrhea that persists for weeks and even months. This is chronic diarrhea and may not be as profuse but persists for long periods of time.
Most of the time acute diarrhea is due to infections, toxins or food-related disorders. It can cause severe diarrhea with one loose bowel movement after the other as the disease peaks. Once it resolves, bowel habit usually returns to normal. However, in chronic diarrhea the bowel habit does not return to normal for long periods or there may be periods of normal stool and bowel habit but the diarrhea recurs.
Causes of Non-Stop Diarrhea
Non-stop diarrhea is a concern due to the risk of dehydration. Symptomatic treatment of diarrhea may only provide short term relief and it is important to identify the underlying cause. The signs and symptoms of diarrheal illnesses largely overlaps and can be difficult to differentiate among the various causes. Always consult with a medical doctor to diagnose the exact cause of non-stop diarrhea.
Viruses, bacteria and protozoa are among the most common causes of acute diarrhea. Fungi may sometimes be involved but this is rare, expect in severely immune compromised individuals. These infectious agents may be transmitted from person-to-person, through contaminated food and water or less commonly through contact with the objects which are contaminated.
A range of substances may be toxic to humans and irritate and inflamed the bowels. This may lead to diarrhea. These toxins may be produced by biological (produced by plants or infectious agents like bacteria) or synthetic (manufactured for different purposes such as pesticides). Some toxins can cause serious illnesses and even result in death, apart from causing symptoms like diarrhea.
Foods may also be a cause of diarrhea. Unusual foods or even excessive eating can also cause acute diarrhea. Most of the time food-related diarrhea is due to problems with the digestion of certain nutrients and sometimes due to the presence of specific nutrients. In food intolerances like lactose intolerance, there is a deficiency of the enzyme that can digest milk sugar (lactose).
Autoimmune conditions that present with diarrhea is where the immune system attacks the bowel walls thereby causing inflammation. This is seen in conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Another type of autoimmune bowel disease is celiac disease. In this condition the inflammation is triggered by the presence of gluten, a protein that is present in wheat.
Diarrhea may also occur in functional bowel conditions where there is a disturbance of bowel physiology but no underlying disease. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common type of functional bowel disorder. Diarrhea is prominent in IBS-D (irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea) and IBS-M (mixed irritable bowel syndrome). These are chronic conditions with acute episodes (flareips) that occur sporadically.
- Gallbladder disease
- Liver disease, including infections like hepatitis
- Colorectal cancer
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
Read more on the causes of persistent diarrhea.
Diet for Non-Stop Diarrhea
Contrary to popular belief, a liquid diet is not necessary when diarrhea is present. Solid foods should be consumed but fluid intake should be increase substantially between and during meals to prevent dehydration.
- Eat several small meals of bland foods. Freshly prepare all food and do not undercook meat. Avoid spices and other unnecessary additives that may worsen diarrhea. Meals should be well balanced.
- Drink oral rehydrating solutions (ORS) which have the optimal balance of water and electrolytes which are needed to counteract dehydration.
- Increase water intake, apart from the ORS, to maintain hydration. Water must be clean and uncontaminated. Only consume reputable brands of bottled water if faucet water is not reliable.
- Small amounts of dairy like live culture yogurt can be consumed to help restore the normal intestinal flora (“good bowel bacteria”) if lactose intolerance is not the cause of diarrhea. Large amounts of dairy should be avoided.
- High fiber foods and fatty foods should be consued in moderation or avoided while the diarrhea persists as it can worsen diarrhea.
- Stimulants like caffeine should be avoided as it may worsen diarrhea. Alcoholic drinks should also not be consumed as it can hasten dehydration.
Apart from diet, various lifestyle measures may also be helpful. Strenous physical activity should be avoided and bed rest can be helpful with recovery. Avoid hot environments as this can speed up dehydration that is likely to arise with diarrhea.
Read more on foods to stop diarrhea.
Treatment for Non-Stop Diarrhea
Treatment for non-stop diarrhea depends on the underlying cause. Therefore an assessment by a medical doctor is necessary to diagnose the condition. This may require diagnostic investigations like blood tests and stool tests. Antidiarrheal drugs like loperamide should not be the first choice of treatment. These drugs can even worsen the underlying cause, as is the case with infectious diarrhea.
- Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial and protozoal infections. Antivirals are usually not necessary for viral diarrhea as it usually resolves spontaneously.
- Corticosteroids may be prescribed for inflammatory conditions, especially if not due to an infections, as is the case with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Probiotics containing Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacilli may be useful in restoring the normal intestinal flora. It may help with conditions like antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
- Vaccines can be used to prevent certain types of infectious diarrhea, like rotavirus gastroenteritis, which is common among children. Vaccines cannot treat diarrhea.
It is important to understand that diarrhea is a symptom. Therefore drugs like antidiarrheals may only provide symptomatic relief. With non-stop diarrhea, these drugs provide short term relief but can lead to complications if used for prolonged periods of time and in high doses.