Diarrhea isn’t a pleasant experience. We all know that. But more often than not, we know the cause of diarrhea. However, diarrhea after eating, also known as postprandial diarrhea, happens out of nowhere. This acute form of diarrhea is often the result of health conditions, is unexpected, and the need to use the restroom is quite urgent.
There is a difference between diarrhea after eating and the chronic diarrhea. In any case, you need to know the cause of the condition and how to react to it.
Cause of diarrhea after eating
There are a wide variety of problems that can cause postprandial diarrhea. If you suffer from any of these health problems, eating is just a trigger for the diarrhea. The reasons vary depending on the diagnosis. In order to treat the diarrhea, you need to treat the root of the problem.
Here are some conditions that can cause postprandial diarrhea.
Irritable bowel syndrome
This is the most common cause of postprandial diarrhea. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, the simple act of eating will set off the symptoms of diarrhea. Medical experts have yet to clearly identify the reason why diarrhea happens or the hyperactivity of the digestive system that triggers the disorder.
Be it acute or chronic diarrhea, an infection can always qualify as a cause. There are many infections that cause both chronic and acute digestive problems, including Giardia lamblia, and Clostridium difficile.
You can say it’s to be expected. Without your gallbladder, it’s normal to experience problems with regulation of bile into the small and large intestines. As a result, you experience symptoms that are similar to bile acid diarrhea. The good news is that diarrhea after eating will resolve itself quickly after the gallbladder is removed, but for some people, it continues for a long period.
Bile acid diarrhea
Also known as BAD, this type of diarrhea is what people have when they think they have IBS (scientists have discovered that some people are diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) when they actually have BAD). When your body does not reabsorb these acids properly, they stimulate contractions in the large intestine. The result is diarrhea. Sometimes, the cause of bile acid diarrhea is unknown, while other times doctors can connect it to a surgery or illness of the digestive system.
Not everyone is able to digest sugars properly, especially fructose and sorbitol. These sugars are found in fruits, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. The best way to determine whether you digest these sugars properly is through an elimination diet, or a breath test.
Studies have shown that one-third of the world’s population are lactose intolerant. The intolerance to lactose is different in different areas of the world. Some people just lack sufficient amounts of enzymes to break down lactose (a sugar found in milk and milk products). As a result, after consuming foods high in lactose, you experience symptoms of diarrhea. Lactose intolerant people must avoid dairy foods. As with sugar malabsorption, lactose intolerance is diagnosed through a breath test or elimination diet.
Inflammatory bowel disease
There are two types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The first one is Crohn’s disease and the second is ulcerative colitis, and both can cause diarrhea after eating. One difference is that when you suffer from IBD, your stool might include traces of blood. If you notice signs of blood in your stool, immediately contact a physician.
Another common disease linked to diarrhea after eating is celiac disease. People who have it experience an autoimmune reaction when ingesting gluten. The protein can be found in wheat, barley, rye, and their products. Gluten intolerance is the “most popular disease” of the 21st century, with almost half of the population not able to properly digest the protein. The diarrhea is different, as it’s odorous and the stool floats (it doesn’t sink). Celiac disease can be easily diagnosed by screening, and it’s the best thing to do if you often experience diarrhea after eating.
If you have colon cancer, you are more likely to experience constipation. However, a change in the frequency of bowel movements can be associated with presence of cancer. You will also notice blood in the stool, anemia, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. Any of these symptoms followed by chronic diarrhea is a red alert that you need to visit your physician.
Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency
This condition has a rather complex name, but it’s a simple problem. Your pancreas isn’t producing enough digestive enzymes. As a result, you can’t digest the food you consume. We already mentioned that the inability to digest gluten, lactose, or sugars results in diarrhea after eating. If you suffer from pancreatic exocrine insufficiency, you will experience it after consuming any food.
Not very common, but the syndrome occurs in people who have undergone bariatric surgery for weight loss. Known as rapid gastric emptying, the condition can easily trigger diarrhea if you consume high sugar content meals. The dumping syndrome means that the contents of the stomach empty too quickly into the small intestine.
Different than ulcerative colitis, the inflammation occurs in the cells lining the intestines, and it can only be seen when the tissue is examined under a microscope. The cause for this condition isn’t known, but the symptoms include watery diarrhea.
How to find relief
If you experience acute diarrhea, you need to react immediately. Here are some guidelines to follow.
- Stay hydrated, as your body needs to replace the fluids and minerals. Drink water and clear fruit juice. Probiotics like yogurt are also recommended.
- Eat small meals. Make sure to check what to eat when you have diarrhea and what to avoid. As a general rule of thumb, any foods that cause inflammation should be avoided.
- Do not rush to use over-the-counter products for diarrhea. Check with your doctor before using an over-the-counter product.
- Avoid trigger foods as a general rule of thumb. You can make your own list by keeping a food diary.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before eating to eliminate bad bacteria.
- Cook meat at the proper temperature, and make sure to properly refrigerate foods avoid bacteria.
- Reduce stress. Stress can often lead to inflammation in the gut, which creates an environment for diarrhea. Even if you don’t consume trigger foods, stress can upset your stomach and cause diarrhea after eating.
- Practice relaxation exercises to calm your body. Deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation can be effective in calming your body and preventing diarrhea after eating.
Should you call a doctor?
Diarrhea after eating isn’t usually considered a severe condition, and most people deal with it at home. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, you should contact a physician immediately:
- Blood in the stool
- Dehydration, with symptoms like dry mouth, sunken eyes, and decreased urine
- Severe stomach pain
- Worsening of diarrhea symptoms
- Fever above 100oF or one that lasts for more than three days
Any of the above mentioned symptoms should be brought to the attention of your doctor immediately. That will help your doctor give you a proper diagnosis and find the source of the problem. Without a proper diagnosis, you can’t expect a proper treatment plan. You and your doctor will come up with the treatment plan, and it’s imperative that you follow the orders to manage your health problem.