We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission Here’s our process.

Medical News Today only shows you brands and products that we stand behind.

Our team thoroughly researches and evaluates the recommendations we make on our site. To establish that the product manufacturers addressed safety and efficacy standards, we:
  • Evaluate ingredients and composition: Do they have the potential to cause harm?
  • Fact-check all health claims: Do they align with the current body of scientific evidence?
  • Assess the brand: Does it operate with integrity and adhere to industry best practices?
We do the research so you can find trusted products for your health and wellness.
Was this helpful?

Loose stools are unusually watery bowel movements. They can result from a gastrointestinal infection, ulcerative colitis, thyroid problems, pancreatitis, and many other causes.

A woman who experiences loose stools clutches her stomachShare on Pinterest
Viktor Solomin/Stocksy

Loose stools often occur after eating, but can also happen at other points in the day. When loose stools occur consecutively on multiple occasions throughout a day, this is described as diarrhea.

However, loose stools can occur chronically and may require treatment. This article will outline potential causes and treatments for loose stools.

Fast facts on loose stools:

  • A loose stool is a term used to describe stools that are more watery and soft than usual.
  • Occasional diarrhea is not usually a cause for concern.
  • Loose stools can have a range of different causes, but most cases are relatively harmless.
Was this helpful?

Most people will experience loose stools occasionally. These bouts of diarrhea can be caused by:

1. Dietary trends

Certain foods, drinks, or supplements can increase the likelihood of loose stools or diarrhea occurring.

Sometimes, the body can have problems digesting certain types of sugars, such as sugar alcohols and lactose.

Sugar alcohols are found in a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and artificial flavorings. The small intestine cannot digest large amounts of sugar alcohols efficiently, which can cause diarrhea.

Diets high in lactose, a sugar found in milk-based products, can also cause loose stools. People with lactose intolerances may experience diarrhea following the consumption of any milk-based products.

Loose stools can also be caused by diets high in:

2. Infections or food poisoning

Viruses, bacteria or parasites can cause inflammation in the stomach and intestines. This can cause loose stools and diarrhea, along with other symptoms including:

  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting
  • nausea

Chronic conditions that can cause diarrhea include:

3. Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition affecting the digestive system. Diarrhea and loose stools are a common symptom of IBS. Other symptoms can include:

4. Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic condition causing inflammation in the colon and rectum. People with UC often experience loose stools and diarrhea. Other symptoms of UC include:

  • abdominal pain
  • frequent bowel movements
  • fatigue
  • appetite and weight loss
  • mouth ulcers
  • joint pain
  • skin irritation
  • eye irritation

5. Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition where the lining of the digestive system becomes inflamed. It can cause diarrhea and loose stools. Other symptoms can include:

  • abdominal pain
  • blood in fecal matter
  • appetite and weight loss
  • fatigue

6. Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a common condition in which the consumption of gluten causes an inflammation of the small intestine. People who have consumed gluten may experience loose stools and diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal bloating
  • gas
  • constipation
  • indigestion
  • skin irritation
  • fatigue
  • weight loss

7. Bile acid malabsorption

Several disorders of the liver and gallbladder can impair the action of bile, preventing the proper breakdown of fats in the intestine. For example, this can occur in people with gallstones or liver cirrhosis. Bile acid malabsorption can cause diarrhea or loose stools.

8. Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)

An overactive thyroid is where the thyroid gland produces too many hormones, interfering with its normal functioning. This can cause loose stools or diarrhea. Other symptoms can include:

  • mood instability
  • poor regulation of sleep
  • swelling around the neck
  • erratic body temperature
  • irritability
  • weight loss
  • trembling

9. Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is a condition where the inflammation occurs in the pancreas. It can impair the proper breakdown of fats, starches, and proteins. This can cause loose stools or diarrhea.

Other symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting

10. Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a long-term condition where mucus builds up in the lungs and digestive system. This can interfere with digestion and cause loose stools or diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

  • recurring chest infections
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty gaining weight
  • a persistent cough

11. Dumping syndrome (rapid gastric emptying)

Dumping syndrome is a condition where food moves from the stomach to the bowel too quickly. It often occurs after weight-loss surgery. It can cause loose stools and diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • abnormal heartbeat

Infrequent cases of loose stools do not typically require medical treatment. However, multiple cases of loose stools can cause dehydration and malnutrition. Some home remedies that may help to prevent or reduce diarrhea include:

  • dietary changes to avoid foods triggering loose stools
  • consuming foods high in fiber
  • taking anti-diarrhea medication, such as Imodium. Imodium is available for purchase over the counter or online.
  • staying hydrated
  • consuming probiotics. A range of probiotics is available for purchase online.

With the help of these home remedies, diarrhea caused by dietary trends, infections or food poisoning should return to normal after a few days.

Loose stools or diarrhea that does not improve after 1 week should be given immediate medical attention. This can be a sign of a more serious medical condition and may worsen without treatment.

Some conditions may be treated with prescription medications or antibiotics, but more serious conditions, such as pancreatitis may require hospital treatment. In some cases, there are no available cures for the underlying condition, but symptoms can be managed.

These conditions include Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and IBS. Symptoms are often managed using a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.

In most cases, diarrhea will often subside within a few days without treatment, or with the help of some home remedies.

It is important to distinguish between loose stools that occur infrequently and those that are chronic. Experiencing loose stools that persist for over 1 week may indicate a more serious underlying condition that will require immediate medical attention.

Read the article in Spanish.