Causes of Acute Diarrhea

When a bout of diarrhea last for less that 14 days it is defined as “Acute Diarrhea”. Anything over 14 days is considered to be a chronic case.   An acute case of diarrhea can be caused by an infectious agent (bacterial, viral or parasitic), a side effect of a medication, a rectal blockage or just stress.  Diarrhea is caused by excess water in the bowels.  The different conditions may bring this condition about in different but the principle remains the same.


Infectious agents

The most common cause of diarrhea is through contracting an infectious agent.  These agents can come in the form of bacteria, a virus or parasite.  Gastroenteritis is a term used by doctors to describe the onset of vomiting and diarrhea cause by an infectious agent.  This condition is also called stomach flu or gastric flu.

Some of these infectious agents can be transmitted person to person but are most commonly transmitted through food.  76 million people are stricken with food poisoning every year in the Untied States and 5,000 will die from it.  Recognizing the traits of dangerous strains of food poisoning is important.


People who suffer from anxiety can manifest that stress as acute diarrhea.  In fact, stress is a leading trigger in acute and chronic diarrhea cases because how it affects the digestive system.  Think about the “butterflies in you stomach” or having a “gut feeling” or “feeling you stomach drop”.  These saying help to illustrate the link between our minds and digestive systems.  Our stomachs and intestines have more nerve cells than our entire spinal cord and there is a nerve highway from our brains directly to our digestive systems.  Stress in our brains can unleash hormonal confusion in our digestive systems that can trigger different behaviors.  These messages can cause stomach aches, loss of appetite, nausea and diarrhea in some people or increase the urge to eat in other people.  Stress is can be an extreme wild card in how it affects the digestive system.

Intolerances and malabsorptions

An intolerance or malabsorption affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, minerals and/or vitamins from food.  These conditions are normally narrowed to a specific element that body have problems with.  For instance, lactose intolerance is when the body can not breakdown and digest lactose properly.  Lactose reaches the small intestines and can not be broken down or absorbed.  So it spills out into the bowels causing diarrhea along with gas, bloating and abdominal pain.  This is normally the case will the majority of intolerance and malabsorption conditions.

Side effects of Medication

Diarrhea has also been known to be a side effect from medication.  Most of these cases stem from an antibiotic or chemotherapy.  Antibiotics can cause diarrhea by disturbing the good bacteria in the digestive tracts.  In most cases the diarrhea will subside after the treatment but some diarrhea episodes can balloon into inflammation of the colon called colitis or bloody diarrhea.  Eating yogurt and taking zeolite and probiotic supplements while on antibiotic will help diarrhea subside.

Chemotherapy also causes diarrhea in many patients, mainly because it kills the good cells that line the digestive tract along with the bad cancer cells.  In addition, it makes the body more susceptible to infection.  (Diarrhea is also a symptom for certain cancers: colon cancer, lymphoma, medullary carcinoma of the thyroid, pancreatic cancer and hormone-producing tumors)

In addition to antibiotics and chemotherapy, diarrhea is a side effect taking people taking some medications for heart disease or post organ transplant.  In many cases doctors will lower the treatment dosage or prescribe something else to counteract the diarrhea.


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