Liquid Poop (Watery Diarrhea): Causes, Treatment, and Prevention Tips

A woman getting tissue

Dealing with diarrhea can be an uncomfortable experience, but it’s often an important indicator of your digestive health.

Diarrhea often stems from gastrointestinal issues — which may be benign or serious — and treating it is crucial to prevent complications.

While seeking help for diarrhea can make you feel self-conscious, failing to do so can have a significant negative impact on your digestive health.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at why it’s important to treat diarrhea properly, as well as its common causes and treatment options to help you maintain a healthy bowel.

How Do You Know If You Have Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is defined as having a loose or watery stool that occurs more frequently than your regular bowel movements.

It’s a common condition that affects people of all ages and usually indicates an issue in the gastrointestinal tract.

Symptoms of diarrhea may include:

  • Having more than three bowel movements per day

  • Increased urgency to have a bowel movement

  • Abdominal pain or cramps

  • Bloating

  • Nausea and vomiting

Depending on the severity of your diarrhea, you may also experience symptoms like fever, blood or mucus in the stool, and signs of dehydration.

Acute vs. chronic diarrhea

Diarrhea is classified into two main categories, depending on how long the symptoms last. Being able to identify the type of diarrhea you have will help you get the proper treatment:

  • Acute diarrhea: This is the most common type of diarrhea, lasting for one or two days, and it usually resolves without any specific treatment. Acute diarrhea is often caused by infections from bacteria, viruses, or parasites and sometimes from food intolerance or medication.

  • Chronic diarrhea: Diarrhea is considered chronic when it lasts for at least four weeks, either continuously or intermittently. Chronic diarrhea indicates a more severe condition — such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or long-term infection. It requires medical evaluation to determine the underlying cause and the right treatment to prevent further complications.

What Causes Diarrhea?


Infections are one of the most common causes of diarrhea and can occur due to exposure to bacteria, viruses, and parasites such as:

  • Salmonella

  • E. coli

  • Campylobacter

  • Rotavirus

  • Giardia lamblia

  • Cryptosporidium

These pathogens are found in contaminated food or water, leading to conditions like gastroenteritis.

You can also develop food poisoning or stomach flu from exposure to these bacteria, which can contribute to loose bowel movements.

If left untreated, diarrhea caused by infections can also become acute and cause long-term health complications.

Food intolerances and allergies

Food intolerances and allergies can disrupt the digestive system, which can cause diarrhea. These intolerances may include:

  • Lactose intolerance

  • Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease

  • Food allergies to nuts, shellfish, and eggs

An adverse reaction in the body can accelerate the digestive process, resulting in food moving through the intestines more quickly.

This reduces the absorption of bile and water, which normally bulk up the stool, resulting in watery or liquid bowel movements.


Certain medications and treatments can upset the digestive system, causing diarrhea as a side effect. These may include:

  • Antibiotics

  • Cancer treatments, like chemotherapy or radiation

  • Antacids containing magnesium

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

If you have to take these medications to manage an underlying condition, it’s recommended to consult your doctor about adjusting your dosage or finding alternative options.

Digestive disorders

Several chronic digestive disorders are characterized by frequent diarrhea or watery stools. These conditions include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): A condition affecting the large intestine, causing cramping, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel movements, including diarrhea and an increased urgency to poop.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Conditions like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) can cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, which leads to irritation and diarrhea.

  • Celiac disease: An autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. This can cause an adverse bodily reaction, which can contribute to diarrhea.

A medical professional will diagnose these disorders to ensure you get the proper treatment and avoid further complications.

Other causes

Besides infections, medical conditions, medication use, and a range of other factors can also lead to diarrhea. These may include:

  • Overuse of laxatives: Regular use of laxatives can weaken the bowel's natural ability to contract, which can cause chronic diarrhea.

  • Alcohol abuse: Excessive alcohol consumption can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and disrupt the absorption of water and nutrients. This makes food move through the digestive tract quicker, contributing to diarrhea.

  • Surgery: Surgical procedures that involve the digestive system — such as gallbladder removal — can affect how nutrients are processed and absorbed. This can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea during your recovery period.

  • Stress: Emotional stress can influence gastrointestinal function and lead to digestive distress. This can cause diarrhea in some people.

How Can You Treat Diarrhea?

Home remedies

Home remedies can help treat mild cases of diarrhea and are primarily used to prevent dehydration and alleviate uncomfortable symptoms.

Popular home remedies to treat diarrhea include:

  • Staying hydrated: Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so it's important to drink plenty of fluids. Opt for oral rehydration solutions or sports drinks in between drinking water to ensure that you replenish electrolytes, too.

  • Taking probiotics: These beneficial bacteria can help restore the natural balance of your gut microbiota and digestive system. Probiotics are found in fermented foods like yogurt and kefir or can be taken as supplements.

  • Following the BRAT diet: Temporarily following the BRAT diet — which consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast — can help make stools firmer and reduce the frequency of bowel movements. These foods are bland and low in fiber, making them gentle on the stomach.

Dietary changes

Making a few small dietary changes can help you improve your digestive health by avoiding foods that may irritate your stomach and cause diarrhea.

These changes could involve:

  • Ensuring that you don’t consume excessive amounts of high-fiber foods

  • Limiting your intake of fatty and spicy foods

  • Avoiding dairy if you’re lactose intolerant

  • Reducing your intake of caffeine and alcohol

In addition to these adjustments, it’s also important to follow a generally well-balanced diet to help promote regular bowel movements.

Medical treatments

In cases where diarrhea is severe, persistent, or caused by an underlying condition, your doctor may recommend medical treatments.

These are more targeted and aggressive compared to home remedies but can provide faster relief from diarrhea symptoms.

Common medical treatments your doctor may prescribe include:

  • Antidiarrheal medications, like loperamide (Imodium®)

  • Antibiotics, especially for diarrhea caused by bacterial infections

  • Prescription medications to help manage conditions like IBD and IBS

It’s important to use these medications as instructed by your healthcare provider to ensure that they are effective at treating your diarrhea.

Don’t use these drugs for longer than prescribed, as this can cause further complications that may be harder to treat.

Can Diarrhea Cause Any Complications?

While diarrhea is often temporary and manageable, it can also lead to complications if it’s not properly treated. These issues may include:

  • Dehydration, caused by significant fluid and electrolyte loss

  • Malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies

  • Growth and developmental delays in children

  • Electrolyte imbalances, which can cause muscle weakness and heart rhythm disturbances

  • Increased infection risk

  • Secondary lactose intolerance

If diarrhea is left untreated, it can significantly impact your quality of life by causing discomfort, social anxiety, and embarrassment.

So be sure to monitor your symptoms and seek professional medical advice if your condition doesn’t improve.

When Should You See a Doctor About Diarrhea?

Most cases of diarrhea can be managed at home with self-care measures. However, certain instances may require a visit to the doctor to avoid further complications.

If you experience any of the following, consult your doctor as soon as possible:

  • Persistent diarrhea that lasts for longer than two days in adults or 24 hours in children

  • Signs of dehydration

  • High fever

  • Severe abdominal or rectal pain

  • Bloody or black stools

These symptoms may be indicators of a severe case of diarrhea that requires more aggressive treatment.

It’s also important to note that certain groups of people may be more at risk of developing severe diarrhea.

If you fall into one of these groups, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as you start experiencing diarrhea symptoms:

  • Infants or young children

  • People with chronic conditions, including diabetes, IBD, and digestive and kidney diseases

  • Older adults

Where Can You Learn More About Maintaining a Healthy Bowel?

If you’re concerned about diarrhea or want to know more about restoring a healthy bowel, LifeMD is here to help.

A team of medical professionals can assist you with information and provide guidance on maintaining a healthy bowel and digestive system to prevent any complications.

Make an appointment with LifeMD today to learn more about digestive health — all from the comfort of your home.

Holly Lunsford, APRN, FNP

Holly is an APRN with more than 10 years of experience. She earned her MS with a Family Nurse Practitioner concentration from the University of Memphis. Her extensive healthcare expertise spans across Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care, and Obesity Treatment.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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