Diarrhea is a common condition characterized by loose, watery stools. There are many potential causes of diarrhea, including infections, medications, and digestive conditions.

In some cases, diarrhea can happen after surgery, too.

In this article we’ll explain why diarrhea can happen after you’ve had surgery, along with the risk factors and treatment options.

You may know that nausea and vomiting can be a common side effect of surgery. However, acute or chronic diarrhea can sometimes happen, too.

Acute diarrhea usually goes away after a day or two. Chronic diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts at least 4 weeks.

Certain types of surgeries have a higher risk of chronic diarrhea. These include surgeries that involve the:

So why exactly do some people experience chronic diarrhea following surgery? There are several possible explanations:

  • bacterial overgrowth around the surgical site
  • more rapid emptying of the stomach, most often as a result of stomach surgery
  • poorer nutrient absorption in the intestines, particularly if part of the intestines were removed
  • an increase in bile, which can serve as a laxative; this most often happens in surgeries involving the gallbladder or liver

Here are some things you can do at home to help alleviate diarrhea symptoms:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids, such as water, juices, or broths.
  • Choose foods that are easier to digest, such as toast, rice, and mashed potatoes.
  • Avoid foods that are high in fiber, fat, or dairy. Also try to stay away from foods that are acidic, spicy, or very sweet.
  • Avoid beverages that contain alcohol, caffeine, or carbonation.
  • Relax in a warm bath to help relieve abdominal or rectal discomfort.
  • Try taking probiotics to help boost the level of good bacteria in your digestive tract.
  • Use OTC medications with caution. In some cases, medications like bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) or loperamide (Imodium) can help reduce symptoms. However, if an infection is causing your symptoms, these types of medications won’t help and can be potentially dangerous.

If your diarrhea lasts for more than two days, or you have a child that has diarrhea for more than 24 hours, seek prompt medical care.

An acute case of diarrhea will typically go away on its own after a couple days of at-home care. Chronic diarrhea, on the other hand, can last for several weeks.

But what’s a normal amount of diarrhea? While diarrhea is defined as three or more watery bowel movements in a day, it’s important to see a doctor if you experience six or more in a day.


There are some potentially serious health risks associated with diarrhea. These conditions can quickly become serious or even life-threatening.


Through the loss of fluids and electrolytes, diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration. The symptoms can differ between adults and children.

Some symptoms to look out for in adults include:

  • increased thirst
  • dry mouth
  • passing very little or no urine
  • dark-colored urine
  • weakness or fatigue
  • feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • sunken eyes or cheeks

In addition to being thirsty and having a dry mouth and sunken eyes and cheeks, dehydration in children can also have the following symptoms:

  • crying but not having any tears
  • no wet diaper in 3 hours or more
  • sleepiness or unresponsiveness
  • increased irritability

Poor nutrient absorption

If you have diarrhea, you may not be able to effectively absorb the nutrients from the foods you eat. This can result in nutrient deficiencies. Some signs that may indicate your digestive tract is having a hard time absorbing nutrients include:

If you have diarrhea, it’s important to seek prompt medical care if you have any of the following symptoms:

The length of time that your symptoms persist also matters. See your doctor if your diarrhea continues for more than two days. Be sure to see your child’s pediatrician if they have diarrhea for more than 24 hours.

If you seek medical treatment for a serious bout of diarrhea, the first thing your doctor will do is to look at your medical history and perform a physical exam.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. They’ll typically also ask about any recent surgeries and underlying health conditions.

In addition to a physical exam, your doctor may order certain tests to try and determine what’s causing your diarrhea. This may include stool tests, blood tests, a CT scan, or possibly an endoscopy.

Below are some of the ways that your condition may be treated:

  • Rehydration. Diarrhea can cause a loss of fluids and electrolytes, so part of the treatment plan will likely focus on replenishing these. If you can’t hold down fluids, you may receive them intravenously.
  • Antibiotics. If bacteria are causing an infection that’s giving you diarrhea, you may receive antibiotics to treat the infection.
  • Adjusting medications. Some medications can cause diarrhea. If you’re taking one of these, your doctor may adjust the dosage or switch you to another medication.
  • Treating an underlying condition. If an underlying condition is causing your symptoms, specific medications or possibly surgery may be recommended.

Treating chronic diarrhea

If you have chronic diarrhea after a surgery, your doctor may start by prescribing medications and recommending dietary modifications aimed at controlling your symptoms until your body adapts.

Once your body reaches a new balance, it may be possible to stop taking the medications and remain diarrhea-free.

In other cases, you may need ongoing or even lifelong use of medications to control or minimize diarrhea episodes.

Sometimes, revision of the initial surgery can provide relief. However, this is a complex decision you’ll need to discuss with your surgeon.

Although diarrhea can have many causes, it can also be a side effect of surgery, particularly abdominal surgeries. This may be due to a variety of factors, including bacterial overgrowth or poor absorption of nutrients.

With the right self-care, diarrhea will often go away on its own. However, if you have diarrhea for more than two days, or have a child that has diarrhea for more than 24 hours, be sure to get prompt medical care.