Causes of Intermittent Diarrhea & Gas

The distressing symptoms of intermittent diarrhea and gas can occur due to a variety of problems within the intestine. These symptoms may be functional in nature, without any underlying disease, or they may indicate a pathological process. Sometimes they are the direct result of an intolerance to a particular food. Depending on the cause, some cases of intermittent gas and diarrhea will resolve on their own while others may require medication, or dietary restrictions.

A female doctor talks to a female patient with stomach pain Credit: JackF/iStock/Getty Images

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a sugar found in milk, and products made from milk. Some people are deficient in the intestinal enzyme lactase, needed for the breakdown of lactose. This deficiency can lead to bouts of gas and diarrhea. Symptoms of lactase deficiency develop over time, and usually don't appear until adolescence or later. The cause may have a genetic component, or it can arise after injury to the small intestine from severe intestinal disease, or chemotherapy drugs. Those of Asian, Hispanic, African American, and American Indian dissent are at higher risk of lactose intolerance, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, or NDDIC. The amount and type of milk product that produces symptoms varies greatly from person to person. Symptoms develop after consuming dairy, and may include gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain and nausea.

Restriction or avoidance of dairy products relieves symptoms. Lactase supplements are also available, and can help lessen the effects of lactose intolerance.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, is another condition that often produces episodes of gas and diarrhea. Sufferer's also tend to have abdominal pain or discomfort, and many experience constipation as well. IBS is fairly common, affecting abut 20 percent of U.S. adults, says the NDDIC. Psychological stress, genetic and dietary factors all play a role in the condition.

Although symptoms are variable, people with IBS generally have discomfort in the lower abdomen which is relieved by a bowel movement. Many experience alternating diarrhea and constipation. Loose stools are a common complaint, as are gas and bloating. Treatments include emotional support, fiber supplements, anti-diarrheals, and avoidance of foods that trigger symptoms. A doctor may also prescribe anti-depressant medications.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease, also known as gluten sensitive enteropathy, is caused by an autoimmune reaction to gluten, a component of wheat, barley and rye. This condition damages the tiny villi of the small intestine, eventually resulting in poor nutrient absorption. Symptoms of celiac disease vary widely, and present differently in adults than in children. One of the primary symptoms in adults is intermittent diarrhea. Other symptoms are gas and bloating, fatigue, foul smelling stools that float, joint aches, and weight loss. Avoidance of foods containing gluten relieves symptoms.

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