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Abdominal pain and diarrhea happening at the same time can have a variety of causes. These can include indigestion, a viral infection such as stomach flu, or an intestinal disease.
It’s important to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms. That will determine which medications, home remedies, and tips you can try to help treat and prevent abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Abdominal pain is pain that you feel between your chest and pelvis. Abdominal pain can be cramp-like, achy, dull, or sharp. It’s often called a stomachache. Diarrhea is characterized by stool that’s loose, bloody, or fatty. You may feel like you need to go to the bathroom frequently. Diarrhea sometimes accompanies abdominal pain.
Frequent, constant, or severe abdominal pain and diarrhea may indicate a disease or a more serious medical issue. Diarrhea that gets progressively worse and is bloody can also be a sign of a more serious issue. Possible causes of abdominal pain and diarrhea include:
- stomach flu
- food poisoning
- food allergies
- premenstrual syndrome
- irritable bowel syndrome, a common disorder affecting the digestive system
- lactose intolerance, or the inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and some other dairy products
- impacted bowel
- intestinal obstruction
- West Nile virus
- parasites, like giardiasis, amebiasis, or hookworm
- bacterial infection, like shigellosis or E. coli
- drug allergies
- celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- cystic fibrosis
- stress and anxiety
- some forms of cancer
Indigestion, stomach flu, and food poisoning are common causes of acute abdominal pain and diarrhea. In these cases, your symptoms will last for less than 4 days and often get better without medical treatment.
Infections or diseases that affect the organs in your abdomen can also cause pain with diarrhea. Organs in the abdomen include your:
The above conditions and disorders can cause inflammation in different parts of your digestive tract, like the stomach and intestines. When your digestive system is inflamed, you might have cramps and trouble with typical digestive processes. This usually results in abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Abdominal pain and diarrhea that last for more than a week or keep coming back may be a sign of an intestinal disease or disorder. Talk with your doctor if you’ve experienced these symptoms for more than a week or on a reoccurring basis.
Like adults, children often experience abdominal pain and diarrhea because of stomach flu, infections, food allergies, lactose intolerance, or stress. But eating too much can also cause these symptoms.
Some children may have trouble telling the difference between when they’re hungry and when they’re full. This can cause them to overeat. Overeating puts stress on the digestive system, which can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Pregnant people are especially prone to abdominal pain and diarrhea. One common reason is that many people make changes to their diet when they find out they’re pregnant. This can cause digestive trouble.
If you’re pregnant, you may also start having sensitivities to particular foods. This can include foods you eat on a regular basis, resulting in abdominal pain and diarrhea. On top of that, hormone changes in your reproductive system that occur during pregnancy may also cause these symptoms.
Seek medical help if you’re having abdominal pain and diarrhea that last for 3 days, if the pain grows increasingly worse over a 24-hour period, or if it’s accompanied by any of these symptoms:
- frequent nausea or vomiting
- a sustained fever of 101°F (38.3°C) for adults or 100.4°F (38°C) for children
- stool that contains blood or dried blood, which looks like wet coffee grounds
- an inability to keep food down
- extreme thirst or dry mouth
- an inability to speak or see
- mental confusion or loss of consciousness
- yellowing of the skin or eyes
- swelling of the genitals
- external bleeding
Diarrhea can be more dangerous for infants, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. In these cases, discuss symptoms with a doctor.
If you don’t have a primary care doctor, you can browse doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.
To determine the cause of abdominal pain and diarrhea, a doctor will first perform a physical exam. They’ll also ask some questions about your health history and lifestyle.
Traveling to certain countries may increase your risk of digestive disease. Be sure to mention any recent trips overseas. The doctor will also ask questions about any recent changes in your diet.
A doctor may perform a stool culture, in which they’ll send a sample of your feces to a lab to check for bacteria, viruses, and parasites. If this comes up negative, they may run a more complete analysis of your feces to look for possible digestive disorders.
Other common diagnostic tests include:
- Endoscopy. In an endoscopy, a doctor sends a camera down your throat and into your stomach to check for problems, such as ulcers and signs of celiac disease.
- Colonoscopy. A colonoscopy involves sending a camera into the rectum and intestines to check for signs of damage and signs of disease, such as ulcers and polyps.
- Lower GI (gastrointestinal) tract radiography. In a lower GI tract radiography, also known as a barium enema, a technician will perform a real-time X-ray of the abdomen. This occurs after the doctor injects a barium-based contrast material into the rectum that can highlight intestinal obstructions and other conditions.
Medication can help treat the underlying condition causing your abdominal pain and diarrhea. If your symptoms are caused by stress or need to be managed, home remedies can help.
The type of medical treatment you’ll receive for your abdominal pain and diarrhea depends on the underlying condition causing your symptoms. Treatments for some of the more common causes of these symptoms include:
- antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, including food poisoning
- prescription allergy medications
- antidepressants to treat stress and anxiety
- prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat PMS
- antiparasitic drugs to kill parasites
It’s important for people having abdominal pain and diarrhea to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of clear liquids, such as water, juice, and broth. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
As bowel movements become more regular, eat small amounts of low fiber, mild foods. These types of foods include plain toast, rice, and eggs. Avoid spicy, high fat, and high fiber foods. They can worsen inflammation in the digestive system.
Many over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbal supplements can ease stomach pain and diarrhea caused by infections or indigestion. Herbal supplements that some people find helpful include:
Consult with a pharmacist or your doctor for advice on their use. Always follow package instructions when taking OTC medications.
Not all conditions that cause abdominal pain and diarrhea can be prevented. Follow these meal tips to help prevent indigestion and stomach upset:
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Limit alcohol.
- Limit spicy and fatty foods.
- Drink plenty of water.
Washing your hands frequently can prevent some viral infections that cause these symptoms.
People traveling may experience traveler’s diarrhea and stomachache. A bacterial or viral infection caused by contaminated food or water is the usual cause.
When traveling in areas with different sanitation standards, be careful about what you eat and drink. Avoid tap water, ice cubes, and raw foods, including peeled fruits and vegetables.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists disease warnings and travel advisories on its travel health website. Consult this list as well as your doctor before traveling abroad.