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Does Stress Cause Diarrhea? Causes and Treatment
Mental Health

Does Stress Cause Diarrhea? Causes and Treatment

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on November 24, 2022
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5 min

Diarrhea is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world. It is defined as having three or more loose stools in a day, and it can be caused by many different reasons. One of them being stress. This article discusses how stress is linked to diarrhea and what you can do to prevent stress-induced diarrhea.

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Diarrhea is an uncomfortable condition, yet quite persistent. It is characterized by frequent bowel movements, abdominal pains, and loose or watery stools.

Finding the cause of your gut problems, like irritable bowel syndrome or frequent bowel movements, can be easy. Perhaps it is the strange, expensive, or unusual dinner you had. It can also be a stomach infection or a sign of stress and anxiety.

If feeling anxious causes you to spend excessive amounts of time in the restroom, you’re not alone.

This article discusses the connection between diarrhea and stress and some preventive measures you can take to avoid this uncomfortable and undesirable symptom.

Can Stress Cause Diarrhea?

Yes, bowel dysfunction is linked to stress. The body releases a hormone called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) in response to stress, which signals the enteric nervous system (ENS), to slow gastrointestinal motility.

The enteric nervous system is responsible for controlling digestion and is connected to your central nervous system by the gut-brain axis. 

Studies on rats revealed that CRF produced during stress decreased stomach and small intestine transit times and boosted large intestine motility. Additionally, it increased transit time and stool production.

In humans, these stress hormones increase motility in the big intestine. This could be the body’s attempt to get rid of toxins that could be dangerous. 

The intestines don’t have enough time to absorb the liquids when the content passes through the digestive tract too quickly, and this can lead to diarrhea.

Why does stress cause diarrhea?

When you’re stressed, your body receives signals from the brain through the sympathetic nervous system. This is referred to as the fight-or-flight response.

The fight-or-flight response causes changes in the body, including increased heart rate, muscle tension, respiratory rate, and high blood pressure.

Your digestion also slows down so that your body can direct resources elsewhere. You might therefore experience digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea.

How Long Does Stress Diarrhea Last?

Usually, stress-induced diarrhea goes away when the stressful event has ended. However, you should contact your doctor if you experience an extended or recurrent episode of stress or stress-related diarrhea. A doctor may suggest making lifestyle changes, engaging in talking therapies, or taking medicine to help manage stress or anxiety.

Most diarrheal episodes are harmless and shouldn’t persist for longer than two days. While acute diarrhea lasts for roughly 1–2 days, chronic diarrhea can linger up to a month or more in extreme situations.

What Are the Other Symptoms of Stress?

Fatigue, weight loss, and appetite loss are common symptoms of stress. Stress can also cause a change in periods, constipation, sweating, muscle aches, stomach pains, and even insomnia.

These physical effects may worsen if you are under a lot of stress. This may also happen if you stress for a prolonged period.

Chronic stress can cause severe health issues, such as heart attack, secondary amenorrhea, or diabetes.

How to Treat Diarrhea Caused by Stress: 4 Tips

Thankfully, there are a number of steps you can take to stop your nervous system from taking over your restroom routine. Here are tested strategies to help treat stress-induced diarrhea:

#1 Concentrate on yourself

Concentrating on yourself is important to live a healthy life. This is especially true for people who tend to be highly stressed. Concentrating on yourself doesn’t need to be intricate or difficult. It simply refers to taking care of your happiness and well-being.

Creating time for mindfulness-based activities like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and improve your overall health. 

If your stress levels are very high, you might benefit from therapy or using mental health apps, such as the Sensa app. 

Sensa Health
Your calm mind assistant
  • Lessons based on the CBT method
  • Mood journal
  • Challenges & self-improvement activities
  • Quick relief function
  • Assessments to help you grow
Our rating:
4.5
Visit Sensa Health

The Sensa app is a tool for supporting mental health and well-being. It’s a smartphone application promoting a healthy lifestyle by utilizing tried-and-true treatment techniques. It includes exercises and teachings from clinical psychology to assist you in altering your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.

Sensa educates you and offers questions, activities, and reflections to help your self-awareness. You’ll discover what is causing your stress and anxiety and how to deal with them.

#2 Drink plenty of fluids

Diarrhea, especially acute diarrhea, causes a loss of more minerals and liquids than usual, causing dehydration. Drink lots of water, clear juice, broth, and electrolyte drinks to stay hydrated. Try drinking at least 1 cup of water after a bowel movement.

#3 Consider taking medication

Some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate, can help decrease the frequency of stools. However, you should avoid taking these drugs if you have a fever or bloody diarrhea because these symptoms typically indicate an intestinal infection, and OTC drugs can worsen this condition.

#4 Try the BRAT diet

When you have diarrhea, it’s important to check your diet. Try a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) that focuses on bland meals that are easy to tolerate and can support your digestive system. Oatmeal, soup, and broth are other items you can add to this diet.

While you don’t have to eat these foods solely while you have diarrhea, they might assist in alleviating your symptoms. Most significantly, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends avoiding foods that might cause diarrhea or agitate your digestive system. Dairy products, fizzy beverages, and coffee-containing beverages are some examples.

FAQs

Can stress cause diarrhea for two weeks?

Stress-induced diarrhea can last for two weeks if you are under a lot of stress for a long time. Visit your doctor if you frequently experience long-term stress or diarrhea brought on by stress. Your doctor may advise lifestyle modifications, therapy, or medications.

Can depression cause diarrhea?

Yes, depression can cause diarrhea. Depression affects the contractions and movement of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which can cause diarrhea, nausea, and constipation.

Can stress cause vomiting and diarrhea?

Yes, extreme stress can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or even nausea. These are the physical symptoms of panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Stress can also cause bloating and other stomach pains.

A Word From a Psychologist

It can be uncomfortable and unpleasant to have diarrhea. However, there are certain things you can do if you have stress-induced diarrhea. While reducing stress may be easier said than done, yoga, meditation, relaxation exercises, and psychotherapy can all be beneficial.

Additionally, if you experience regular episodes of stress-related diarrhea, it is important to speak with a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical issues, including chronic stress.

Consult a doctor if diarrhea is accompanied by weight loss, bloody stools, dehydration, severe abdominal pain, fever that lasts more than three days, or any indication of rectal bleeding. Each of these signs may point to a more severe gastrointestinal condition.

Conclusion

Stress affects the digestive system in various ways. Over time, too much stress might limit your gut’s ability to perform its normal functions, causing diarrhea.

Treatment for stress-induced diarrhea should address both the body and the mind. Deep breathing, yoga, and meditation can all help in relaxation and stress reduction. Additionally, consuming plenty of water and avoiding foods that agitate your GI helps speed your body’s recovery.

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if your diarrhea doesn’t improve or you experience any other symptoms. Your healthcare professional can choose the best course of action for you and ensure there isn’t another reason for your symptoms.

Sensa Health
Your calm mind assistant
  • Lessons based on the CBT method
  • Mood journal
  • Challenges & self-improvement activities
  • Quick relief function
  • Assessments to help you grow
Our rating:
4.5
Visit Sensa Health
HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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