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Morning diarrhea is when a person passes a loose, watery stool first thing in the morning. The need to go to the bathroom may wake someone with morning diarrhea up. They may also feel they need to go urgently when they first get up.

Most people experience morning diarrhea at some point. Occasional morning diarrhea may be a sign of a temporary illness or the result of lifestyle choices.

However, having morning diarrhea on a regular basis may be a sign of an underlying condition.

man lighting up a cigarette which may cause morning diarrheaShare on Pinterest
Morning diarrhea may be caused by smoking.

Lifestyle choices that may cause morning diarrhea include some of the following common habits:

  • Smoking cigarettes: Nicotine can cause loose stools. Morning diarrhea may occur if a person smokes before they go to bed or first thing in the morning.
  • Drinking too much alcohol: Alcohol can also cause loose stools. Morning diarrhea may be caused by drinking too much alcohol the night before.
  • Midnight snacking: Morning diarrhea may be caused by getting up in the night to eat or snacking before bed.
  • Drinking too much coffee: Caffeine increases bowel movements. Too much coffee may cause morning diarrhea.
  • Eating a large breakfast: Having a big breakfast shortly after waking up may overstimulate the bowels, which may cause morning diarrhea.
  • Taking medication: Medications such as antibiotics can cause morning diarrhea.

Temporary conditions that may cause morning diarrhea include:

  • Food poisoning: Morning diarrhea may be caused by eating food that has passed its shelf life or been contaminated by bacteria.
  • Virus: A virus such as influenza may cause morning diarrhea.
  • Bacterial infection: A bacterial infection may cause morning diarrhea.
  • Pregnancy: Morning diarrhea may be a response to changing hormone levels caused by pregnancy. Changing hormones may also cause morning sickness to occur.
  • Psychological stress: The bowel can be stimulated when a person is stressed or anxious, which can cause morning diarrhea.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration affects electrolyte balance. Electrolyte imbalance can stimulate the gut and cause diarrhea, as electrolytes control how cell membranes work and transport electrical signals that cause muscles to contract.

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IBD, IBS, and allergies may be causes of morning diarrhea.

Long-term conditions that may cause morning diarrhea include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): One of the leading causes of morning diarrhea is IBS. Psychological stress and certain foods may be triggers, but the exact cause of IBS is unknown. Although a 2016 study found links between anxiety, depression, and IBS.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): IBD is an umbrella term for a variety of conditions which cause inflammation in the gut. Conditions include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Allergies: People who eat foods they are allergic or sensitive to may develop irritation of the gut, leading to morning diarrhea. Common food allergens include peanuts, wheat, egg, dairy, and fruit.

When lifestyle factors cause morning diarrhea, a person can make some changes to try to reduce the irritants causing the problem.

If an allergy is responsible for causing morning diarrhea, then the best way to prevent the condition occurring is to cut any irritating foods out of the diet completely.

Anyone who thinks that IBS or IBD is causing the morning diarrhea must see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. The first step in diagnosing the cause of the morning diarrhea is to identify the symptoms of each condition.

The symptoms of IBS, in addition to morning diarrhea, are:

The symptoms of IBD, in addition to morning diarrhea, are:

  • stomach pain
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • blood in stool

A doctor can help determine whether a person has IBS or IBD. The treatments for each condition are as follows:

IBS treatments

IBS treatments include:

  • Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants are an effective treatment for IBS symptoms, despite not being designed for this purpose, according to a 2009 study. Examples include imipramine (Tofranil) and desipramine (Norpramin).
  • Anticholinergic medication: These medications may reduce spasms leading to diarrhea. An example of an anticholinergic medication is dicyclomine (Bentyl).
  • Anti-diarrheal medication: Non-prescription medications such as loperamide (Imodium) may also help. These are available to buy online or over the counter.

IBD treatments

Anti-inflammatory medications for IBD target inflammation in the gut that cause symptoms including:

  • corticosteroids
  • aminosalicylates
  • immunosuppressant drugs

Dietary changes also help to manage IBD. A 2017 study found that following the autoimmune protocol diet (AIP), which involves eliminating certain foods, could help control IBD symptoms.

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Spicy foods should be limited as they may irritate the gut and cause morning diarrhea.

Similarly to many other conditions, morning diarrhea is less likely to affect people who lead a healthful lifestyle, eat well, and exercise regularly.

Making positive lifestyle changes to reduce gut irritation, such as stopping smoking or reducing drinking, are good ways of preventing morning diarrhea.

Taking steps to reduce the effects of psychological stress is another good way to promote healthful bowel movements.

Yoga, meditation, and running are all effective ways to reduce the impact stress has on the mind and body.

Limiting quantities of the foods that are likely to irritate the gut is also a good idea. Foods to limit, include:

  • carbonated drinks
  • spicy foods
  • raw fruit
  • starchy foods that contain gluten
  • foods that contain FODMAPS, fructose, or lactose, which are types of sugar

Having diarrhea can cause dehydration. This can affect older people, children, and those with underlying conditions more seriously.

Drinking plenty of fluids to help prevent dehydration is essential if someone has diarrhea.

Food poisoning results in a higher risk of becoming dehydrated.

Most causes of morning diarrhea are temporary and soon pass. People should speak to their doctor if the diarrhea does not go away.

The doctor can help diagnose the underlying condition causing morning diarrhea. Causes may include IBD or IBS. Once the doctor has diagnosed the cause, they can recommend appropriate treatment.

If the cause is food poisoning, people are at higher risk of dehydration. They should seek medical attention if they are unable to keep down any liquids and are unable to rehydrate.