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What causes diarrhoea?

Short-term diarrhoea

It is typically a symptom of a bowel infection (gastroenteritis). Possible causes:

  • A virus, for example the norovirus or rotavirus
  • Bacteria which may also cause food poisoning such as Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), Escherichia coli (E. coli), salmonella, campylobacter as well as shigella
  • Parasites such as the Giardia intestinalis parasite which causes giardiasis

Travellers’ diarrhoea is commonly diarrhoea caused by contaminated food or water while visiting a foreign country.

Other potential causes of short-term diarrhoea include:

  • Food allergy
  • Emotional upset or anxiety
  • Drinking too much coffee or alcohol
  • Appendicitis - painful inflammation of the appendix
  • Radiationenteritis - damage to the lining of the intestines (bowels) due to radiation therapy

Long-term diarrhoea

Conditions that may cause continuing diarrhoea include:

  • Bowel cancer – may cause diarrhoea and bloody stools
  • Chronic pancreatitis –inflammation of the pancreas
  • Coeliac disease– a digestive condition where the immune system is intolerant to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats)
  • Crohn's disease– a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation ofany part of the digestive tract, also gastrointestinal (GI) tract
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)– is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, where the normal functions of the bowel or GI tract are disrupted
  • Microscopic colitis– a form of inflammatory bowel disease that causes watery diarrhoea
  • Ulcerative colitis– a condition that causes inflammation and sores (ulcers) in the inner lining of the colon (large intestine)
  • Cystic fibrosis– an inherited condition in which the lungs and digestive system are clogged with thick sticky mucus.

Persistent diarrhoea can also occasionally occur after agastrectomy. Gastrectomy is a surgical removal of all or part of the stomach. An example would be as atreatment forstomach cancer.
Diarrhoea can also occasionally be caused bybariatric surgery (weight loss surgery) to treat people who are dangerously obese.

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