Chronic diarrhea: what it is, common causes, and more

Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on January 10, 2020. Written by Kathryn Wall. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Chronic diarrhea can be both uncomfortable and inconvenient. It can also be a sign of a serious health condition—though there are other possible chronic diarrhea causes, as well. So keep reading to find out more—including causes and remedies—and don’t forget: it’s always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing a symptom like this.

What is chronic diarrhea?

Diarrhea is a type of bowel movement characterized by loose, watery stool that may occur once or several times over the course of one to three days. Chronic diarrhea is defined as diarrhea that lasts for longer than two to four weeks. It’s normal to occasionally experience diarrhea, but diarrhea that persists can be serious and increase the risk for problems such as dehydration.

Symptoms that can come with chronic diarrhea include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting

Common causes of chronic diarrhea

Sugary foods

Sugar stimulates the gut to release water and electrolytes that can loosen bowel movements. Eating high amounts of sugary foods over a prolonged period of time may lead to chronic diarrhea. Fructose and artificial sweeteners are common culprits of sugar-driven diarrhea.

Certain medications

Nearly all over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications list diarrhea as a side effect; however, certain medications have a greater association with diarrhea than others. Antibiotics, antacids, chemotherapy agents, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and metformin are some common medications linked to drug-induced diarrhea.


Diabetes can disrupt gastrointestinal function and result in symptoms like chronic diarrhea. Though diarrhea can be experienced at any time of day, it typically occurs at night among people with gastrointestinal complications resulting from diabetes.

Whether you’re managing diabetes or just want to learn more about your blood sugar, consider taking the at-home HbA1c Test—which gives you an easy way to understand your glucose levels, all from the comfort of your home.


Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can trigger chronic diarrhea due to the way this thyroid disorder speeds up a number of bodily processes, including digestion. Hyperthyroidism is caused by an excess of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream and—in addition to diarrhea—symptoms can include a rapid heart rate, fatigue, and heat sensitivity.

Easily check 3 key hormones involved in thyroid function—including TSH and thyroxine—with the Everlywell at-home Thyroid Test.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder of the large intestine characterized by abdominal pain, cramping, gas, and diarrhea. People with this condition may experience alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation that can last for several days on end. Irritable bowel syndrome is commonly triggered by stress, certain foods, and hormonal changes; it may be managed with regular exercise, plenty of quality sleep, and a high-fiber diet.

Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is a condition in which part of the digestive tract becomes inflamed. In most cases, inflammation occurs at the lower end of the small intestine and at the beginning of the large intestine. This can cause symptoms like fatigue, fever, and chronic diarrhea. Although the exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, the condition may be effectively managed with a healthy, well-balanced diet, stress management, and medication.

Seeking medical care for chronic diarrhea

If you have diarrhea that doesn’t seem to be going away, talk with your healthcare provider. They may review your medical history and perform a physical exam to understand what’s causing your chronic diarrhea.

Treatment for chronic diarrhea will depend on the root cause and may include medication, surgery, or other interventions.

It’s a good idea to seek medical care right away if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms with chronic diarrhea:

  • Fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headache
  • Dry skin
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Stools that are black, tarry, or bloody
  • Vomiting
  • Small amounts of urine
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe rectal pain
  • Diarrhea after visiting another country
  • Signs of dehydration such as dark urine, fatigue, and dizziness

Remedies for chronic diarrhea

Chronic diarrhea may be improved at home by drinking plenty of clear liquids like water and bone broth, and by avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and sugary beverages like soft drinks. Eating a greater amount of semi-solid and low-fiber foods until your bowel movements return to normal may also help. Toast, rice, eggs, and chicken are all good options.

Common questions about chronic diarrhea

What is acute diarrhea?

A 2014 study published in American Family Physician defines acute diarrhea as stool with increased water content, volume, or frequency that lasts fewer than 14 days.

How often should bowel movements occur?

The frequency of bowel movements is different for everyone, and there isn’t a specific amount of bowel movements that’s considered normal for everybody. That being said, most people experience up to four bowel movements per week, though the frequency can range between three times per day to three times per week.

What is traveler’s diarrhea?

Traveler's diarrhea is an intestinal infection that occurs as a result of consuming contaminated food or beverages in another country. Traveler’s diarrhea may be prevented by eating cooked foods (served hot), drinking from factory-sealed containers, and frequent hand washing.


1. Chronic Diarrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

2. Diarrhea. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

3. Is something in your diet causing diarrhea? Harvard Health. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

4. Drug-induced diarrhea. MedlinePlus. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

5. Maisey A. A Practical Approach to Gastrointestinal Complications of Diabetes. Diabetes Ther. 2016;7(3):379-386. doi:10.1007/s13300-016-0182-y

6. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

7. Irritable bowel syndrome. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

8. Crohn disease. MedlinePlus. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

9. Symptoms & Causes of Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

10. Diarrhea – diagnosis & treatment. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

11. Acute Diarrhea in Adults. American Family Physician. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

12. Frequent Bowel Movements. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

13. Travelers' Diarrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

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