Diarrhea and abdominal pain are two common symptoms associated with the digestive tract. Often these symptoms may occur together and it can be difficult to isolate abdominal pain with diarrhea due to a specific cause. Diarrhea occurs for a variety of different reasons as does abdominal pain, and without considering other symptoms as well as conduting diagnostic investigations, it can be difficult to identify the underlying cause.
Stomach Pain with Loose Watery Stool
Abdominal pain is often incorrectly referred to as stomach pain. However, the stomach is a specific organ that lies in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen. Nevertheless many people commonly refer to abdominal pain as stomach pain. With the abdominal cavity having so many different organs within it, abdominal pain on its own can be difficult to diagnose unless other symptoms are present.
Read more on stomach pain.
Diarrhea means passing more than three bowel movements in a day where the stool is often loose and of a watery consistency. The majority of diarrhea cases are due to a disease or disturbance within the digestive tract, particularly the lower tract such as the small and large intestines (bowels). As with abdominal pain, diarrhea is due to a diversity of different causes.
When abdominal pain and diarrhea occur together then it is likely that the underlying cause is due to a problem with the digestive tract as most of the digestive tract lies in the abdomen. In some conditions, the severity of abdominal pain correlates with the severity of the diarrhea. The pain may also be relieved after having a bowel movement or intensify just prior to feeling the urge to pass stoool. This indicates a correlation between both symptoms.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Abdominal pain and diarrhea are symptoms that may be accompanied by other symptoms. When considered collectively, these other symptoms may indicate a more likely cause of abdominal pain with diarrhea.
- Nausea and vomiting – more likely with foodborne infections and non-infectious causes due to foods and oral medications.
- Fever – more likely with infections although some infections may not present with fever.
- Bloating (sensation of fullness) – more likely when upper digestive tract also involved but can occur with any digestive problem.
- Abdominal distension – causes may be varied including infectious and non-infectious conditions.
- Loss of appetite – common non-specific symptom that accompanies abdominal pain and/or diarrhea.
Abdominal pain can be diffuse where the pain is felt throughout most of the abdomen and not at a specific area, or it may be localized where it is isolated to one region on the abdomen. Localization of abdominal pain along with diarrhea along with other signs and symptoms may indicate more specific causes.
Causes of Abdominal Pain with Diarrhea
Most causes of diarrhea also present with abdominal pain. Therefore in most cases it is difficult to consider diarrhea on its own with abdominal pain, cramps or discomfort. However, not every cause of abdominal pain is accompanied by diarrhea.
Toxins and Infections
Infectious agents like viruses, bacteria and protozoa, or their toxins are common causes of abdominal pain with diarrhea. It is often accompanied by other symptoms lihe nausea, vomiting (sometimes) and fever. Most of the time it is spread through contaminated food and water but with outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis it may also be spread through body secretions.
Foods, Drinks and Additives
A number of different edible substances can lead to diarrhea for different reasons beyond infections. Some foods can aggravate pre-existing conditions like gastritis, gastroenteritis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). With food intolerances and malabsorption syndromes the body either cannot digest specific foods or absorb specific nutrients. This may be seen with lactose intolerance, sorbitol intolerance or fructose malabsorption.
Substances and Medication
Certain OTC (over-the-counter) and prescription drugs may cause diarrhea, usually as a side effect for various reasons. Laxatives and antibiotics are two commonly known medication to cause diarrhea but this is dependent on the dosage and duration that it is used. Alcohol can also lead to diarrhea, especially when consumed in excess. Certain alcoholic beverages may be more of an irritant than others. Illicit substances can also lead to diarrhea particularly when ingested.
Abdominal and diarrhea can occur with strenous physical activity if a person is not accustomed to it and appropriately conditioned. This may occur for several reasons such as strain of the abdominal or other muscles as well as increased abdominal pressure which may lead to more frequent bowel movements. Runner’s diarrhea is another example of abdominal pain and diarrhea due to strenuous physical activity.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are two common conditions which present with diarrhea. However, there are many other bowel conditions that can also be responsible. This includes conditions like appendicitis, celiac disease, colitis (infectious and non-infectious), diverticulitis and even colorectal cancer. Watery stool may be seen with fecal impaction but it is usually is not diarrhea.
Apart from the bowel and the digestive tract in particular, diarrhea and abdominal pain may occur with other conditions involving the abdominal organs. Pancreatitis and gallbladder diseases like gallstones involve the digestive organs although the digestive tract is not affected. Peritonitis is another condition where there is often severe abdominal pain with diarrhea. It involves the lining of the abdomen.
Abdominal discomfort, cramping and even pain are common symptoms of pregnancy. It is not always due to a problem with the digestive tract and is more likely to be linked to the expanding uterus and increased abdominal pressure. This may also at times lead to diarrhea, in conjunction with the effects of the pregnancy hormones. Uncharacteristic eating habits may also further contribute to diarrhea.
Abdominal pain is a frequently seen symptom with certain psychological states. From anxiety to depression and psychological stress, many people experience abdominal pain for no clearly identifiable reason. This is at times accompanied by diarrhea. Psychological factors may also aggravate pre-existing bowel conditions that cause both diarrhea and abdominal pain, as is the case with IBD and IBS.