Body aches and diarrhea are symptoms that sometimes occur together. Depending on the cause, they may resolve without the need for medical treatment. However, in some cases, these symptoms can signal an underlying health issue that requires careful management.

In this article, we outline seven possible causes of body aches with diarrhea, along with their associated symptoms and treatment options. We also provide information on when to see a doctor.

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It is not uncommon for body aches and diarrhea to occur together.

Body aches and diarrhea are symptoms of a condition, rather than conditions in themselves.

Body aches

Body aches may affect a specific area of the body or the entire body. The pain and discomfort from these aches can range from mild to severe.

Depending on the cause, body aches may be either sudden and temporary or long lasting. Doctors refer to these as acute and chronic, respectively.

Diarrhea

The term diarrhea refers to the passing of loose, watery stools three or more times per day.

Other symptoms may accompany diarrhea, including:

  • an urgent need to use the bathroom
  • an inability to control bowel movements
  • stomach pain and cramping
  • nausea

If diarrhea results from an infection, people may also experience:

Below are some of the possible causes of body aches with diarrhea.

1. Food poisoning

Food poisoning can occur when a person consumes food or drink that contains harmful pathogens, such as bacteria or viruses. Many different pathogens can cause food poisoning, including:

The pathogens responsible for food poisoning can come from the following sources:

  • undercooked meats
  • unpasteurized milk
  • improperly washed fruits or vegetables

The symptoms of food poisoning can differ depending on the pathogen responsible. However, some general symptoms include:

  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever
  • muscle aches

The symptoms may develop 30 minutes to 4 weeks after consuming contaminated food or drink. The length of time it takes to develop symptoms depends on the pathogen responsible.

Treatment

The symptoms of food poisoning typically go away without the need for medical treatment. In the meantime, people can try the following:

  • drinking plenty of fluids to replace water and electrolytes lost during bouts of vomiting or diarrhea
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), to help alleviate diarrhea in adults
  • eating plain foods, such as crackers
  • using oral rehydration solutions, for people with a weakened immune system and children (only after checking with a doctor)

If a person needs medical treatment, a doctor will first have to establish whether the food poisoning is due to a bacterium, parasite, or virus. If bacteria or parasites are responsible, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

A doctor may also prescribe or recommend OTC probiotics to help reduce the duration of diarrhea.

2. Viral gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis (VG) is the medical term for a viral infection of the intestines. People can catch such viruses as a result of coming into contact with the stool or vomit of a person who has the infection.

Symptoms of VG include:

Treatment

People who have VG can use OTC medications, such as Imodium and Pepto-Bismol, to treat diarrhea. They should also make sure that they replace any lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration.

3. Influenza

Influenza, or flu, viruses are a group of viruses that can cause seasonal flu. They are highly contagious. People can contract them by inhaling droplets from the coughs or sneezes of a person with the virus. They can also get the virus if they come into contact with infected droplets on inanimate objects, such as doorknobs or computer keyboards, and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth.

Some symptoms of the flu include:

  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • fever
  • body aches and headaches
  • occasionally, diarrhea and vomiting (more common in children)

Treatment

In most cases, the flu will go away on its own without the need for medical treatment. However, people can take OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen to help alleviate some of the symptoms.

If a person is experiencing severe flu symptoms, a doctor may prescribe antiviral medication.

Doctors also recommend that people get a flu vaccination before the start of the flu season each year to reduce the chance of developing the flu.

4. Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder in which the body is unable to break down and digest lactose. Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar present in milk and dairy products.

The symptoms of lactose intolerance include:

  • bloating
  • gas or flatulence
  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach cramping and discomfort
  • painful or aching muscles or joints

Treatment

The main treatment for lactose intolerance is to limit or avoid foods and drinks that contain lactose. Some people may be able to consume small amounts of these foods, whereas others will not be able to consume any.

People can also try taking lactase tablets or drops immediately before consuming foods or drinks containing lactose. Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, thereby preventing the symptoms of lactose intolerance. However, lactase products are not suitable for young children or people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

5. Gluten sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity is a condition in which a person experiences symptoms in response to eating foods containing gluten. Examples of such foods include:

  • wheat
  • barley
  • rye

Common symptoms of gluten sensitivity include:

  • bloating or gas
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • joint pain
  • numbness in the legs, arms, or fingers
  • brain fog
  • fatigue

Treatment

A person who experiences symptoms after eating foods containing gluten should see their doctor, who will need to rule out more serious conditions, such as celiac disease.

A person should not try a gluten-free diet until they have had a blood test for celiac disease. Following such a diet could reduce the accuracy of the test.

If tests confirm that a person does have gluten sensitivity, their doctor will recommend cutting gluten out of the diet to prevent symptom flare-ups.

6. Celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot process gluten. It is similar to gluten sensitivity but more severe. In people with celiac disease, the consumption of gluten causes the immune system to attack and destroy healthy cells in the small intestine.

The symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • bloating and gas
  • stomach aches and pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • pale, foul-smelling stools that float

Treatment

The main treatment for celiac disease is to eat a gluten-free diet. A doctor may refer a person to a dietitian who specializes in devising nutritious, gluten-free meal plans.

People with celiac disease should also take steps to limit their exposure to gluten in other ways. For instance, they can check with a pharmacist whether medications or supplements contain gluten before taking them. They can also read labels on cosmetics and household items to ensure that they do not contain gluten.

7. Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the collective term for a group of symptoms that affect the digestive system. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder. This definition means that it is the result of the brain and gut not working together as they should.

There are three different types of IBS:

  • IBS with constipation
  • IBS with diarrhea
  • IBS with mixed bowel habits

Symptoms of IBS include:

  • stomach pain and aches
  • bloating
  • diarrhea, constipation, or both
  • white mucus in stools

Treatment

People may be able to reduce the symptoms of IBS by making the following changes to their diet:

Using techniques to manage stress, such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga, can also be beneficial.

If a person has IBS with diarrhea, a doctor may prescribe medications such as Imodium or rifaximin (Xifaxan) to treat the diarrhea.

Doctors may also prescribe antispasmodics to help treat stomach pain and cramping.

Most conditions that cause body aches and diarrhea do not require medical attention. However, a person should see a doctor if their symptoms become severe or persistent or start to interfere with their daily activities. The doctor will work to diagnose the cause of the symptoms and provide appropriate treatments.

Anyone who experiences any of the following symptoms should seek immediate medical attention:

  • frequent watery diarrhea lasting for more than 2 days, especially if vomiting occurs alongside it
  • black and tarry stools or stools that contain blood
  • severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • frequent vomiting
  • a fever of 102°F (38.89°C) or higher
  • lightheadedness
  • diarrhea lasting more than a week

Several conditions can cause both body aches and diarrhea. Most conditions that cause these symptoms go away by themselves without any need for medical treatment.

However, severe, persistent, or recurrent episodes of body aches and diarrhea may signal an underlying medical condition that requires management. Examples of such conditions include food intolerances and sensitivities and other types of digestive issues.

Receiving a diagnosis can help a person gain access to appropriate treatments. These treatments should alleviate the symptoms and allow the individual to carry on with their normal daily activities.