Diarrhea and a cold can occur simultaneously. Some viruses, such as the influenza (flu) virus, can occasionally cause gastrointestinal symptoms in addition to respiratory symptoms.

Although they can occur together, a cold and diarrhea typically have separate viral causes.

This article explores the link between diarrhea and a cold.

A ma taking his temperature and wondering if diarrhea and a cold can occur at the same time. -2Share on Pinterest
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Some viruses, such as certain types of adenoviruses or strains of the influenza virus, can occasionally cause gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms.

This means that if someone is experiencing both sets of symptoms, it could be from a single infection.

However, diarrhea and cold symptoms often have separate causes. A cold is typically the result of viruses that infect the respiratory system, such as rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, and influenza viruses.

Symptoms of these viruses often include:

Diarrhea, on the other hand, can result from digestive system infections. These can be due to viruses such as norovirus or rotavirus, bacteria such as Salmonella or Escherichia coli, or even parasites.

The symptoms are predominantly gastrointestinal, including:

Colds are primarily respiratory infections caused by rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, and strains of the influenza virus.

The typical symptoms of a cold include a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, and sometimes a low grade fever.

However, certain viruses, particularly influenza and some coronaviruses, can occasionally cause gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea.

This is more common in children than in adults. The reason for this is that these viruses can cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract as well as the respiratory system.

While having diarrhea does not directly cause a cold, any infection can weaken a person’s immune system for a short time.

This might make someone more susceptible to other infections, including respiratory ones such as the common cold.

However, this is not the same as saying diarrhea causes a cold. Instead, it is a case of a weakened immune system making someone more vulnerable to various infections.

When someone experiences cold symptoms and diarrhea at the same time, it could be due to various reasons:

  • Coinfection: This is when someone has two separate infections simultaneously. One virus (such as a rhinovirus or coronavirus) can cause cold symptoms, and another can cause diarrhea (such as a norovirus or bacterial infection). This can happen if a person has a compromised immune system or they experience exposure to both types of pathogens simultaneously.
  • Certain viruses: Some viruses can cause both respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms. For example, certain strains of the influenza virus and some coronaviruses can lead to both cold-like symptoms (cough, runny nose, sore throat) and diarrhea. This is more common in children.
  • Weakened immune system: If a person has a weakened immune system due to an existing illness, stress, or lack of sleep, they can be more susceptible to various infections, leading to a combination of symptoms.
  • Noninfectious causes: Sometimes, the stress of being ill with a cold can upset the digestive system, leading to diarrhea. Additionally, certain over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications, especially those containing high amounts of vitamin C or zinc, might cause gastrointestinal upset in some people.
  • Allergies or food sensitivities: In some cases, symptoms such as a runny nose or sore throat could be due to allergies, which could coincide with diarrhea caused by food sensitivities or intolerances.
  • Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD): GERD can cause symptoms that mimic those of a cold, such as a sore throat and cough, and can also cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including diarrhea.

The treatments for cold symptoms and diarrhea will depend on the underlying cause of these symptoms. Some common treatments include:

  • Rest: Adequate rest is crucial for recovery, especially when the body is fighting an infection or managing multiple symptoms.
  • Hydration: Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so drinking plenty of fluids is important. Water, broth, and oral rehydration solutions are good choices. It may help to avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they can worsen dehydration.
  • Diet: For diarrhea, follow a balanced, bland diet until symptoms ease. This can help reduce the burden on the digestive system. Doctors used to recommend the BRAT dietbananas, rice, applesauce, and toast — but experts now think this is too restrictive. However, people may still want to include some of these foods.
  • OTC medications: For cold symptoms, OTC remedies such as decongestants, antihistamines, and pain relievers can provide relief. For diarrhea, medications such as loperamide (Imodium) are available. It is best to consult a doctor before taking medications.

Generally, if someone has a cold and develops diarrhea, it is typically mild and short-lived.

But if diarrhea is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms such as high fever, dehydration, or blood in the stool, people need to seek medical attention, as these could be signs of a more serious infection or a different illness entirely.

While diarrhea is not a typical symptom of a cold, it can occur at the same time as a cold. However, it is more often a symptom of the flu or stomach bug than the common cold.

People experiencing a cold and diarrhea together should take steps to treat their symptoms at home. It is important to seek advice from a healthcare professional if the symptoms last longer than expected.