Loose Stool: What Causes It and How to Treat It

Medically Reviewed By Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C
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There are various causes of loose stool, including certain foods, medications, and medical conditions. Loose stool is typically treatable with medication or home remedies. If loose stool results from a chronic condition, treating the underlying condition may help reduce this symptom.

This article discusses different causes of loose stool and how to treat and prevent it. It also explains when to consult a doctor about loose stool.

Food and drink

Image of a pink pillow shaped like poo against a darker pink background
CACTUS Creative Studio/Stocksy United

Many food products and drinks can cause or worsen loose stool. These foods and drinks include:

  • caffeine
  • dairy foods
  • sugar
  • fried or fatty foods
  • gluten
  • spicy foods
  • fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPS), such as fructose, lactose, and artificial sweeteners

Identifying the foods or drinks that cause you to experience loose stools can help you avoid them.

Medications

Certain medications can cause loose stool as a side effect. These include:

  • antibiotics
  • certain chemotherapy medications
  • cholesterol-lowering medications
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • antacids that contain magnesium
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

It is important to read the information that comes with a medication carefully and to speak with a doctor about any lasting side effects.

Q:

What is the difference between loose stool and diarrhea?

Anonymous

A:

Loose stools simply describe the consistency of stool, whereas diarrhea is a condition that is defined by frequent loose to watery stools. A person may have loose stools here and there, but this does not mean that they have diarrhea.

Cynthia Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Medical conditions

Several chronic medical conditions can cause loose stool.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which certain digestive symptoms occur following the consumption of food products that contain lactose. Lactose is a sugar that occurs naturally in milk products and milk, including cheese and ice cream.

The symptoms that people with lactose intolerance commonly experience include:

  • diarrhea
  • gas
  • bloating
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • rumbling sounds in the stomach
  • vomiting

Learn more about lactose intolerance.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a collection of symptoms that occur at the same time. These gastrointestinal symptoms typically happen without any visible signs of damage to the digestive tract.

The symptoms of IBS include:

  • diarrhea or constipation
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • feeling as though bowel movements have not finished
  • whitish mucus in the stool

Learn more about irritable bowel syndrome.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a chronic immune and digestive condition that damages the small intestine.

Foods that contain gluten trigger the symptoms of celiac disease, which include:

Learn more about celiac disease.

Dumping syndrome

Dumping syndrome is a group of symptoms that occur after eating a meal. It is due to rapid gastric emptying, which happens when food moves too quickly from the stomach to the first part of the small intestine.

The symptoms of dumping syndrome typically occur within 30 minutes of eating a meal and include:

Learn more about dumping syndrome.

Other chronic conditions

Other chronic conditions that can cause loose stool include:

Gastroenteritis

The primary cause of gastroenteritis is viruses. However, it is sometimes due to bacteria, parasites, or other irritants.

Although people commonly refer to gastroenteritis as “stomach flu,” the virus that causes it actually affects the intestines. It has nothing to do with the actual flu, or influenza, and it does not affect the stomach.

Symptoms of the stomach flu include:

Learn more about intestinal flu.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning occurs after eating unsafe or contaminated foods. The symptoms of food poisoning can take hours or even days to develop.

The symptoms of food poisoning can range from mild to severe, depending on the cause. Common symptoms include:

It is important to drink plenty of fluids if you are experiencing food poisoning to prevent dehydration.

Learn more about food poisoning.

Treatment for loose stool

If you experience infrequent episodes of loose stool, you may not require any treatment. However, there are ways to treat diarrhea and loose stool right away or reduce the frequency of these symptoms. These include:

  • avoiding foods that trigger loose stools
  • staying hydrated
  • using over-the-counter (OTC) antidiarrheal medications
  • adding more fiber to your diet
  • consuming probiotics

If you have chronic diarrhea or loose stool that lasts more than 2 days, you should contact a doctor. Treating any underlying conditions may help reduce or prevent episodes of loose stool.

When to see a doctor about loose stool

Although loose stool often does not require any treatment, some serious signs mean that you should seek medical care right away.

When to contact a doctor right away

If you notice any of the following signs, contact your doctor immediately:

  • fever of 102oF or higher
  • diarrhea that lasts more than 2 days
  • vomiting frequently
  • severe pain in your abdomen or rectum
  • six or more loose stools in 24 hours
  • symptoms of dehydration
  • stools that are black and tarry or contain blood

Preventing loose stool

It is not always possible to prevent loose stools. However, there are ways you can prevent or reduce their frequency. These include:

  • avoiding foods that trigger loose stool
  • washing your hands regularly
  • disinfecting the toilet after each bout of diarrhea
  • practicing proper food hygiene to prevent food poisoning
  • treating any underlying conditions that may cause loose stool
  • speaking with your doctor about medications that cause loose stool

Frequently asked questions

Below are some questions that people often ask about loose stool. Cynthia Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C, has reviewed the answers.

Is it normal to have loose stool every day?

Loose stool is often due to the foods or drinks you consume. If you are experiencing loose stool every day, you may wish to consider avoiding any known triggers. Frequent or daily loose stool lasting more than 2–3 weeks may also be a sign of chronic diarrhea.

You may wish to speak with a doctor if you frequently experience loose stool. The doctor can determine whether you have any underlying conditions that require treatment.

What foods cause mushy poop?

Various foods and ingredients can cause your stool to be loose or mushy. These differ among individuals but typically include:

  • sugar
  • dairy
  • gluten
  • spicy foods
  • fried or fatty foods
  • caffeine

Summary

There are many possible causes of loose stool. These range from foods to medications to medical conditions. Loose stool is also often due to gastroenteritis or food poisoning.

The treatment options for loose stool can vary. If an underlying condition is responsible, it is important to treat that condition. If loose stool is due to medication, speak with your doctor about these side effects. Only stop taking a medication after consulting your doctor.

Home remedies for infrequent loose stool include staying hydrated and taking OTC antidiarrheal medication.

Contact your doctor right away if you experience loose stool or diarrhea that lasts more than 2 days, a high fever, or more than six loose stools in a day.

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Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 8
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.