Loose stools, or diarrhea, affect everyone at some time or another. When it becomes frequent or chronic, the underlying cause needs identification and treatment. Diarrhea passes a large volume of body fluid with the stools. Frequent loose stools cause the body to become dehydrated. Dehydration causes chemical and mineral imbalances within the body which, by nature, constantly tries to maintain a steady state. Unchecked frequent diarrhea poses serious problems, so getting to the cause of the diarrhea becomes crucial.
Infection as the Cause
Infection may cause diarrhea. According to the Mayo Clinic, the microbes that most commonly infect the GI system include viruses, bacteria and parasites. The Norwalk virus, cytomegalovirus and viral hepatitis cause their share of GI infections. Bacteria that cause loose stools include campylobacter, salmonella, shigella and E. coli. The parasites that take up residence in the colon go by the names Giardia lamblia and cryptosporidium. A microbe infection generally comes from something ingested.
Chronic Disease as the Cause
Some people suffer from Crohn's disease. They experience bouts of diarrhea that causes bleeding and cramping. Ulcerative colitis also comes with diarrhea and malaise. With a diagnosis, medications can keep the symptoms at bay. The Mayo Clinic states irritable bowel syndrome causes a person to swing back and forth between diarrhea and constipation. However, in recent years medicine recognizes that people with IBS tend to stay in one mode more than others.
Food as the Cause
The food that sits perfectly well with us today could cause an explosion of diarrhea on a different day. Sometimes combinations and timing of the foods over-stimulate the bowels. In general, the human gastrointestinal system has objections to spicy foods, greasy foods and foods cooked with animal fats. Dairy or lactose intolerance, wheat intolerance and gluten intolerance lead the list of allergies that cause diarrhea.
Intestinal Obstruction as the Cause
The least common cause of diarrhea, intestinal obstruction, comes with other obvious symptoms. The stools may contain blood, which causes anemia, according to "Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 49th ed." The anemia causes fatigue and weakness. Total obstruction, though rare because of the large diameter of the intestine, does occur. More often a small passageway forms. As the stools get backed up at the site of the obstruction, they take on more and more fluid. The solid waste dissolves into fluid and the stream of diarrhea exits the body.
Treating the symptoms of diarrhea
See a doctor if diarrhea persists. Knowing the cause will guide the treatment. The advice given by Ask a Doctor online, AIDS.org, follows. While you have loose stools, avoid spicy, creamy and greasy foods. Stay away from dairy products like milk, cheese and butter. The things you should eat, called the BRAT foods, are B for bananas, R for rice, A for applesauce and T for tea. These four items will not insult your GI system any further. As your diarrhea wanes, add plain pasta, boiled eggs and yogurt. Another way to boost your intestines back into neutral involves replacing some of the normal flora that got washed out with the loose stools. Over the counter, you can buy capsules of lactobacillus, bacteria that lives naturally in the body. Replacing this normal flora helps ward off other microbes from populating the intestine.