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Diarrhoea and stomach pain: How diet affects your digestive health

How does diet affect your digestive health?



Did you know that 38.4% of prevalent diseases had a digestive aetiology, representing 2.9 billion cases in 2019? If you are a busy person juggling a demanding job, family responsibilities, and your social life, you likely rarely have time to think about your diet.

Fast meals and convenience foods become your go-to option and resorting to quick fixes is likely to result in a terrible stomach ache that you’ll spend the next few days battling bouts of diarrhoea.

On this page, we will discuss the link between diarrhoea and stomach pain, elucidating how your dietary choices directly impact digestive health.

How does diet affect your digestive health?



Did you know that 38.4% of prevalent diseases had a digestive aetiology, representing 2.9 billion cases in 2019? If you are a busy person juggling a demanding job, family responsibilities, and your social life, you likely rarely have time to think about your diet.

Fast meals and convenience foods become your go-to option and resorting to quick fixes is likely to result in a terrible stomach ache that you’ll spend the next few days battling bouts of diarrhoea.

On this page, we will discuss the link between diarrhoea and stomach pain, elucidating how your dietary choices directly impact digestive health.

 

stomach pain

Common root causes: Diarrhoea and stomach pain might come from the same main condition or disorder. For instance, gastroenteritis, which is frequently called the stomach flu, can show symptoms like both diarrhoea and stomach pain because of inflammation in your stomach and intestines.

Increased gut motility: Diarrhoea is characterised by increased bowel movements and loose stools, usually due to faster gut movement in your body. High motility can also make you feel stomach pain or cramps as your intestines contract harder to push stools through the digestive system.

Digestive disorders: Conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are characterised by symptoms such as diarrhoea, stomach pain, and bloating. Disturbances in gut motility and heightened sensitivity to certain foods or stressors can lead to discomfort and changes in bowel habits.

Is there a link between diarrhoea and stomach pain?

The total count of cases is around 1.7 billion annually for diarrhoea across the world, and abdominal pain stands as one of the most common causes for people seeking medical consultations; which contributes to about 5-10% of all emergency department visits globally. 

Diarrhoea often results in frequent, loose, or very watery bowel movements. Diarrhoea generally occurs with stomach pain and can cause other symptoms like cramping, bloating and urgency. Diarrhoea can be acute, lasting for a short duration, or chronic, persisting for weeks or even months.  

Abdominal pain is an unpleasant feeling or cramp in the area between your chest and pelvis, which can range from mild to severe and might come with other signs like sickness, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and changes in bowel habits.

Response of nervous system: The enteric nervous system, occasionally referred to as the second brain, coordinates the gut activity and interacts with the central nervous system. Stress or unease, which might cause problems like stomach aches, can also impact gut movements and lead to diarrhoea

Inflammation and irritation: Conditions that cause inflammation or irritation of the gastrointestinal tract can lead to both diarrhoea and stomach pain. Infections, such as bacterial or viral gastroenteritis, can cause inflammation in the intestines, resulting in diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort.

Gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea and stomach ache are often seen, which can vary from mild uneasiness to intense discomfort.

Is there a link between diarrhoea and stomach pain?

The total count of cases is around 1.7 billion annually for diarrhoea across the world, and abdominal pain stands as one of the most common causes for people seeking medical consultations; which contributes to about 5-10% of all emergency department visits globally. 

Diarrhoea often results in frequent, loose, or very watery bowel movements. Diarrhoea generally occurs with stomach pain and can cause other symptoms like cramping, bloating and urgency. Diarrhoea can be acute, lasting for a short duration, or chronic, persisting for weeks or even months.  

Abdominal pain is an unpleasant feeling or cramp in the area between your chest and pelvis, which can range from mild to severe and might come with other signs like sickness, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and changes in bowel habits.

stomach pain

Common root causes: Diarrhoea and stomach pain might come from the same main condition or disorder. For instance, gastroenteritis, which is frequently called the stomach flu, can show symptoms like both diarrhoea and stomach pain because of inflammation in your stomach and intestines.

Inflammation and irritation: Conditions that cause inflammation or irritation of the gastrointestinal tract can lead to both diarrhoea and stomach pain. Infections, such as bacterial or viral gastroenteritis, can cause inflammation in the intestines, resulting in diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort.

Increased gut motility: Diarrhoea is characterised by increased bowel movements and loose stools, usually due to faster gut movement in your body. High motility can also make you feel stomach pain or cramps as your intestines contract harder to push stools through the digestive system.

Response of nervous system: The enteric nervous system, occasionally referred to as the second brain, coordinates the gut activity and interacts with the central nervous system. Stress or unease, which might cause problems like stomach aches, can also impact gut movements and lead to diarrhoea.

Digestive disorders: Conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are characterised by symptoms such as diarrhoea, stomach pain, and bloating. Disturbances in gut motility and heightened sensitivity to certain foods or stressors can lead to discomfort and changes in bowel habits.

Gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea and stomach ache are often seen, which can vary from mild uneasiness to intense discomfort.

What are the common causes of diarrhoea and abdominal pain?

Infections and contamination

Virus infections

Norovirus, rotavirus and similar viruses can create gastroenteritis, which results in diarrhoea and stomach pain.

Bacterial infections

Bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter can cause food infections leading to diarrhoea with stomach pain.

Parasitic infections

Parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium can result in persistent diarrhoea along with stomach pain and cramps.

Contaminated food or water

Eating food or drinking water that contains bacteria, viruses, or poisons can lead to diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Food intolerances and allergies

Lactose intolerance

Diarrhoea, gas, and stomach pain may result from not being able to digest lactose which is the sugar found in milk.

Gluten sensitivity and coeliac disease

Reactions to the consumption of gluten can create digestive symptoms, like diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and uneasiness.

Sensitivity to preservatives

Sensitivity to preservatives such as sulphites that are used in some foods and drinks to stop them from going bad.

FODMAP intolerance

Sensitivity to fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols that ferment within the gut.

Digestive disorders

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

A chronic condition characterised by abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel habits, including diarrhoea.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis that result in inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

Gastroenteritis

The stomach and intestines become inflamed due to infection or irritation, resulting in diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Gastroparesis

A delay in gastric emptying called gastric stasis which indicates the stomach needs more time to empty its contents.

Stress and anxiety

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

Chronic condition characterised by excessive worrying and anxiety about aspects of life, without a specific trigger.

Panic disorder

Recurrent panic attacks from intense feelings accompanied by rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shortness of breath.

Health anxiety (Hypochondriasis)

Excessive worry and preoccupation about having a medical condition, despite reassurance from medical professionals.

Adjustment disorder

Stress-related condition by emotional or behavioural symptoms in response to a significant life stressor or change.

Dietary factors

Spicy foods

The consumption of spicy food can irritate the stomach lining and intestines, leading to stomach pain and diarrhoea.

High-fat foods

Consumption of food with high contents of fat can increase gut motility, leading to diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Artificial sweeteners

Indulging in sorbitol and other sugar alcohols can result in chronic diarrhoea and stomach pain in some people.

Alcohol

Alcohol can irritate the gastrointestinal lining, increase gastric acid production and disrupt gut motility.

Chronic conditions

Coeliac disease

Autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine, causing diarrhoea and pain.

Pancreatic insufficiency

The pancreas fails to produce enough digestive enzymes, leading to malabsorption, diarrhoea, and stomach pain.

Diverticulitis

Inflammation or infection of pouches in the colon can cause severe abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits.

Functional dyspepsia

Chronic disorder characterised by persistent upper abdominal pain or discomfort without an identifiable organic cause.

What food groups should you avoid for diarrhoea and abdominal pain?

To experience relief from diarrhoea and abdominal pain, it is frequently recommended to not consume particular food groups that may aggravate the symptoms.

Foods with high fat

Food with high fat content can make gut movement more active, which is not good for diarrhoea. Steer clear of fried foods, fatty meats, creamy sauces, and desserts that are heavy on the fat.

Spicy foods

Spicy foods could make your gastrointestinal tract more irritated, leading to additional stomach pain and diarrhoea. Stay away from meals that have hot peppers, chilli powder, or spicy sauces in them.

Dairy

Dairy contains lactose, which is a sugar that many patients find hard to break down during the digestive process. The best way to approach this would be to avoid milk, cheese, yoghurt, and ice cream.

High-fibre foods

Fibre is good for digestion, but can aggravate diarrhoea in particular situations. To get relief from diarrhoea, stay away from high-fibre foods such as whole grains, uncooked vegetables and legumes.

Artificial sweeteners

Sugar alcohols like sorbitol and mannitol may cause diarrhoea, avoid using products that have these sweeteners. Check for items with artificial sweeteners, such as sugar-free chewing gum or candies.

Caffeinated and carbonated beverages

Caffeine and carbonated beverages tend to increase gut motility causing worsened diarrhoea, bloating, and significant stomach discomfort. Stay away from coffee, tea, boba, energy beverages, or sodas.

Acidic foods

Acidic foods can irritate the lining of your stomach. Avoid eating citrus fruits, and tomato-based products such as ketchup or pasta sauce. Stay away from vinegar and any other kind of acid in sauces.

Alcohol

Alcohol can cause irritation and upset the process of digestion, resulting in diarrhoea and aches. Staying away from the consumption of alcohol and not drinking beer, wine, liquor, or mixed drinks.

Big meals or overeating

Eating large meals or overeating can overwhelm the digestive system, worsening symptoms of diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Thus it would be best to stick to smaller portions and more frequent meals.

Trigger foods

Find out the specific foods that make your symptoms worse or cause them to happen. Maintain a journal to remember what you eat and how bad your symptoms are; this might help find what is triggering it.

What food groups should you consume for diarrhoea and abdominal pain?

Focus on consuming foods that are gentle on the digestive system. If the symptoms keep going or become worse, it is important to see a gastrointestinal expert for more examination and advice.
Cooked vegetables

Choose boiled or steamed veggies. Cooked, soft vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and squash are easier for your digestion. Do not eat fibrous or gas-causing vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.

Lean protein sources

Opt for lean proteins that are easy to digest, like chicken without skin, turkey, fish, or tofu. Stay away from meats loaded with fat or strong seasoning as these might aggravate your symptoms.

Low-fat dairy choices

Try low-lactose or lactose-free dairy products. Some examples are lactose-free milk, yoghurt, and cheese. Consider non-dairy options such as almond milk or coconut yoghurt if you cannot consume animal products.

Clear liquids

Keep yourself hydrated by consuming clear fluids including water, clear broths, rehydration drinks, herbal teas, and drinks with electrolytes. These fluids help prevent dehydration and replace lost electrolytes.

Probiotic foods

Boost your diet with probiotic-filled foods such as yoghurt that has active cultures, kefir, sauerkraut, or kimchi. Probiotics can assist in rebalancing the gut’s microbiome and enhancing digestion.

Low-fibre foods

During diarrhoea and abdominal pain, it’s better to eat low-fibre food to prevent gut irritation. Select refined grains such as white bread, pasta, and white rice. Avoid whole grains or fibrous vegetables.

Foods with electrolytes

Consume foods that have many electrolytes, such as potassium, sodium, and chloride. These can help keep your body’s level of electrolytes balanced whilst also reducing the risk of dehydration.

Remember these soft and digestible food groups to assist in controlling symptoms of diarrhoea and abdominal pain while also promoting good digestive health. If the signs continue or become severe, it is very important to talk with a gastrointestinal provider for an appropriate assessment and remedy.

Consult a gastrointestinal specialist for diarrhoea and abdominal pain

If you’re experiencing ongoing or concerning symptoms of diarrhoea and abdominal pain, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist for evaluation and management. Your gastrointestinal specialist can help determine the underlying cause of your gastrointestinal symptoms and develop a tailored treatment plan to improve your digestive health and quality of life.

Consult a gastrointestinal specialist for diarrhoea and abdominal pain

If you’re experiencing ongoing or concerning symptoms of diarrhoea and abdominal pain, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist for evaluation and management. Your gastrointestinal specialist can help determine the underlying cause of your gastrointestinal symptoms and develop a tailored treatment plan to improve your digestive health and quality of life.

FAQs

Are diarrhoea and abdominal pain contagious?

Diarrhoea caused by infectious agents like viruses, bacteria, or parasites can be contagious, especially if proper hygiene measures are not followed. It’s essential to practise good hand hygiene, avoid sharing utensils or food with infected individuals, and stay home from work or school if you have diarrhoea to prevent spreading the infection to others.

When should I see a doctor for diarrhoea and abdominal pain?

You should consider seeing a doctor if you experience persistent or severe diarrhoea and abdominal pain, especially if accompanied by other symptoms like fever, dehydration, blood in stool, or significant weight loss. Additionally, seek medical attention if you notice any concerning changes in your bowel habits or if symptoms interfere with your daily activities.

How are diarrhoea and abdominal pain treated?

Treatment for diarrhoea and abdominal pain depends on the underlying cause. It may include dietary modifications, medications, hydration therapy, probiotics, and lifestyle changes. In severe cases, hospitalisation and intravenous fluids may be necessary.

Should you be concerned about yellow mucus in bowel movements?

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