What Causes Burning Diarrhea?

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Falck, MD on April 4, 2017Written by Ashley Marcin on April 4, 2017

Burning diarrhea

Having diarrhea is never a pleasant experience. When it burns or hurts to go, that makes matters even worse. Read on to learn what could be causing your burning diarrhea, how to treat it at home, and when to call your doctor for further testing.

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Causes

There are a number of reasons you might experience burning diarrhea. It’s always a good idea to get checked by a doctor whenever you notice a difference in your bowel habits. That being said, many of the most common causes can often be treated at home.

Eating spicy foods

If this is the first you’ve noticed burning diarrhea, think about what you’ve eaten recently. Spicy foods like peppers contain capsaicin. This naturally occurring compound is the same stuff you find in pepper spray, mace, and topical pain medications. It burns on contact. Eating a lot of peppers or spicy foods can give you a number of symptoms, including burning diarrhea.

Hemorrhoids

Did you know that constipation and diarrhea can sometimes go hand in hand? It’s true. Over time, constipation and other conditions can cause hemorrhoids, which are inflamed veins on your anus or rectum. Irritation to these veins can make you feel burning and pain during bowel movements.

Irritable bowel syndrome

The frequent diarrhea that accompanies irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can also cause discomfort and burning. This condition is more common than you might think. Some 1 in 5 Americans has symptoms of IBS, but fewer than 1 in 5 of those with symptoms seeks medical help for the condition. It isn’t clear what causes IBS. Triggers can include anything from certain foods to excess stress to hormonal changes.

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Symptoms

Any additional symptoms you have with your burning diarrhea will likely vary depending on the cause.

Eating spicy foods

Exposure to capsaicin can make your skin burn or even cause asthma attacks.

When ingested, this compound may also cause:

  • stomach cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids happen after straining during bowel movements. They also occur frequently during pregnancy, after childbirth, and whenever other stress has been put on your anus.

You may experience:

  • bleeding without pain during bowel movements
  • itching, pain, or discomfort in and around the anus
  • swelling or a lump near your anus
  • leakage of stool

Irritable bowel syndrome

Symptoms of IBS vary depending on the person. It’s a chronic condition, so symptoms may come and go in waves.

You may experience:

  • stomach pain and cramping
  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea or constipation, sometimes alternating
  • mucus stool

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Home treatment

There are many ways you can treat your symptoms at home. In many cases, burning diarrhea is a temporary condition that will respond well to lifestyle changes and over-the-counter treatments.

Spicy foods

If you suspect that your burning diarrhea is caused by eating spicy foods, experiment with limiting or cutting them from your diet. You may even want to keep a food diary to see which foods cause the most symptoms.

As an alternative, you might also try doing just the opposite. In an article published by Men’s Health magazine, Sutep Gonlachanvit, MD, explains that eating spicy foods frequently for over three weeks may help desensitize you to that burning sensation.

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids may heal on their own over time. There are some things you can do to speed up the process.

  • Use over-the-counter (OTC) hemorrhoid creams like Preparation H or Doctor Butler's and witch hazel pads to ease discomfort, burning, and itching. You can also use ice packs to help with swelling.
  • Soak in warm water or a sitz bath for 10 to 15 minutes a couple times a day.
  • Use moist towelettes or wet toilet paper instead of dry for wiping.
  • Consider taking OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to temporarily relieve pain.

Remember: Bleeding is a common symptom of hemorrhoids. Any bleeding from your rectum, though, is a good reason to visit your doctor.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Though IBS is a chronic condition, there are many things you can do to help with flare-ups.

  • Adjust your fiber intake. Some people with IBS do well on high-fiber diets because they help to reduce constipation. Others find that eating too much can give them gas and cramping.
  • Keep a food diary to see if there are certain foods that cause diarrhea more than others.
  • Exercise regularly and drink plenty of water each day to promote healthy bowel habits.
  • Eat regular, small meals if you are experiencing diarrhea.
  • Use caution with OTC antidiarrheal medications. Try taking the lowest dose about half an hour before eating. Using these medications incorrectly can lead to other medical issues.
  • Experiment with alternative medicine. Acupuncture, hypnosis, probiotics, yoga, and meditation may help ease your symptoms.

If you see a doctor for chronic IBS, your doctor can give you medications — alosetron or lubiprostone — that may help.

When to see a doctor

Be sure to call your doctor whenever you notice a change in your bowel habits. Many things that cause burning diarrhea are temporary and can be treated at home. Still, there are some conditions, like IBS and colon cancer, that would require specialized treatment.

Also, call your doctor if you experience:

  • bleeding from your rectum
  • progressively worse abdominal pain, especially at night
  • weight loss

At your appointment, your doctor will likely ask you for your medical history and a description of any of the symptoms you are having. Try to be as specific as possible. It might even help to write down your concerns before your appointment.

Tests may include the following:

  • Digital rectal exam During this type of exam, your doctor will insert a gloved and lubricated finger into your rectum. He will feel around for growths, lumps, or anything else that might indicate you need further testing.
  • Visual inspection: Some things, like internal hemorrhoids, aren’t easy to see with the naked eye. Your doctor may use an anoscope, proctoscope or sigmoidoscope to get a better look at your colon.
  • Colonoscopy: Your doctor may want to examine your entire colon using a colonoscope, especially if you’re over age 50.

Outlook

Burning diarrhea is uncomfortable and may even worry you. The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a serious condition. If you have concerns about your bowel habits, call your doctor to get it checked out. Otherwise, keep watch over the foods you eat, treat hemorrhoids, and work on ways to lessen any triggers for IBS.

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