Frequent loose stools lasting five or more days are a symptom of many diseases and disorders. Persistent diarrhea may also be caused by medical treatments, such as heart or diabetes medications, antibiotics, gastric surgery or cancer chemotherapy. Diarrhea may also be a complication of diabetes. Viral infections and mild cases of food poisoning generally resolve in less than five days. A physician should evaluate loose stools that persist for more than three days or that are accompanied by fever, severe pain or signs of dehydration.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that Giardia lamblia, which is harbored in the intestines of infected persons and animals, may live outside the body for months. This microscopic parasite may cause oily diarrhea, nausea, gas, abdominal pain and fatigue lasting up to six weeks. Fecal-oral transmission occurs through swallowing contaminated water or food, or from handling contaminated surfaces. Recreational water areas are a frequent source of outbreaks in the United States.
Persistent diarrhea may be caused by dietary problems. An excess of artificial sweeteners, vitamin C or drinking too much alcohol may induce loose stools. Food sensitivities may be a cause of diarrhea in children. Ingesting dairy products causes abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea in individuals with lactose intolerance, an enzyme deficiency that impairs the breakdown of milk sugars. The condition can affect infants and children, however, enzyme loss may also accompany aging. The elimination of cow's milk or the addition of lactase supplements relieves symptoms. The Celiac Disease Foundation advises elimination of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, to treat celiac disease, a disorder affecting the small intestine that may have symptoms of chronic diarrhea and weight loss.
Irritable Bowel Sydrome
Irritable Bowel Sydrome, or IBS, is characterized by spasms or decreased motility in the smooth muscles of the large intestine. Symptoms include abdominal pain and alternating mucusy diarrhea or constipation. IBS does not cause damage to the digestive tract. MayoClinic.org states that symptoms of IBS affect almost one out of every five adults in the United States. Increased dietary fiber may help to solidify stools.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Chron's disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common types of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, characterized by frequent and sometimes bloody diarrhea. IBD causes damage to the lining of the digestive tract; ulcerative colitis is confined to the colon. KidsHealth.org reports that inflammatory bowel disease most often affects people between the ages of 15 and 30. IBD may be linked to hereditary autoimmune traits.
C. Difficil Infection
Clostridium Difficile, or C. difficile, is a bacteria that can live up to 40 days on surfaces such as bedrails and toilets, according to Michael Schroeder, MD, whose article was published in the March 2005 "American Family Physician." Schroeder states the pathogen is responsible for 15 to 20 percent of antibiotic associated diarrhea. The infection is increasingly acquired in hospitals, where it poses a danger to the ill and elderly. Recurrences following treatment are common and probiotic formulas may be recommended for at-risk patients.