What are the Most Common Causes of Abdominal Pain and Diarrhea?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill
A bland diet that contains rice is recommended for patients with diarrhea.
A bland diet that contains rice is recommended for patients with diarrhea.

The most common causes of abdominal pain and diarrhea are infections, whether caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Occasionally, diarrhea is also caused by intolerance to certain foods, medications, or by a bowel disorder like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Each of these factors causes the body to speed up digestion so that stools exit the body before the water fully absorbs from them in the large intestines, causing them to become watery or loose.

Infections are the most common cause of abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Infections are the most common cause of abdominal pain and diarrhea.

The majority of the time, the most common causes of abdominal pain and diarrhea are a result of the food someone eats. This can be true directly or indirectly, since most of the time diarrhea is a result of pathogens which enter the body on contaminated food or in unclean water. Other times the food itself or some component of it cannot be properly digested, and may result in loose stools.

In cases where abdominal pain and diarrhea are very severe, it is important for patients to see a doctor.
In cases where abdominal pain and diarrhea are very severe, it is important for patients to see a doctor.

Most of the time, diarrhea will run its course and work itself out within a day or so. Some common causes of abdominal pain and diarrhea, though, are chronic and may have to be treated with medication. This may be the case with conditions like IBS or inflammatory bowel disease. Medication may be necessary to alleviate diarrhea in these cases.

If abdominal pain and diarrhea are very severe or do not improve with proper treatment, it is important for patients to see a doctor. Long-term diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which is especially serious in young children and older adults. When suffering from diarrhea, it is advised that patients drink plenty of water to replenish lost fluids. An electrolyte-enhanced drink may also be recommended. Sugary beverages or those containing high levels of caffeine should be avoided.

Diarrhea may be caused by a bowel disorder, like irritable bowel syndrome.
Diarrhea may be caused by a bowel disorder, like irritable bowel syndrome.

There are over the counter medications which may help alleviate abdominal pain and diarrhea. They may be recommended if diarrhea is severe and if nausea is also present, as this may make drinking enough fluids more difficult. A bland diet is also recommended to avoid additional digestive upset until diarrhea has subsided. Foods which are typically allowable include bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Dairy products and foods high in fiber should be avoided while diarrhea is present and for a few days after.

Diarrhea typically resolves on its own within one to two days.
Diarrhea typically resolves on its own within one to two days.

Parasitic infections which cause abdominal pain and diarrhea will need to be treated with an anti-parasitic prescribed by a doctor. Testing may also be done after the medication has been finished to ensure that all parasites have been killed and/or removed. To avoid reinfection, patients should only eat meats that are cooked thoroughly.

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    • A bland diet that contains rice is recommended for patients with diarrhea.
      A bland diet that contains rice is recommended for patients with diarrhea.
    • Infections are the most common cause of abdominal pain and diarrhea.
      Infections are the most common cause of abdominal pain and diarrhea.
    • In cases where abdominal pain and diarrhea are very severe, it is important for patients to see a doctor.
      In cases where abdominal pain and diarrhea are very severe, it is important for patients to see a doctor.
    • Diarrhea may be caused by a bowel disorder, like irritable bowel syndrome.
      Diarrhea may be caused by a bowel disorder, like irritable bowel syndrome.
    • Diarrhea typically resolves on its own within one to two days.
      Diarrhea typically resolves on its own within one to two days.