An occasional bout of loose stools in the morning is normal. But when morning diarrhea occurs regularly over a period of several weeks, it’s time to diagnose the problem.
In addition to loose stools and more frequent bowel movements, serious morning diarrhea may be joined by other symptoms, including:
- abdominal pain or cramps
- nausea and vomiting
- blood in the stool
If you often experience morning diarrhea, it’s important to discover its cause. It could be a sign of a chronic health problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Or you may have a bacterial infection or simply a dietary pattern that needs to change.
Some causes of morning diarrhea are chronic, meaning they are long-term health issues. Others are temporary, such as pregnancy. Among the more common causes of morning diarrhea are:
IBS is one of the main causes of morning diarrhea. The condition is a problem with your large intestine. In addition to diarrhea, symptoms of IBS can include:
- abdominal cramps
- mucus in the stool
It’s not clear what causes IBS. Researchers know that stress, changes in your daily routine, and certain foods can trigger morning diarrhea and other symptoms.
Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is actually an umbrella term for several chronic intestinal disorders, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both of these conditions are characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract.
With Crohn’s disease, the inflammation can spread from the lining of your digestive tract and into surrounding tissue. Ulcerative colitis causes sores to form along the lining of the large intestine.
Both of these disorders share symptoms, including:
- diarrhea (often in the morning)
- abdominal pain
- weight loss
Untreated bacterial or viral infections can cause morning diarrhea and other, related symptoms.
Rotavirus is one of several viral infections that triggers diarrhea.
Salmonella is a common bacterial infection that can cause morning diarrhea. Bacterial infections that cause loose bowel movements usually develop after consuming contaminated food or water.
Alcohol or smoking
A late-night alcohol binge or smoking a little more than usual before bed can trigger morning diarrhea. Alcohol can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, causing loose stools. Smoking is a major risk factor for Crohn’s disease, as well as for many other problems affecting organ health.
Several types of medications list diarrhea as a common side effect. Some antibiotics, in particular, are associated with diarrhea. If you take a medication before bed, the drug is in your system all night, and can result in morning diarrhea.
The nervous stomach and other symptoms that can accompany anxiety or emotional stress tend to disappear while you sleep. But if you wake up focused on a stressful situation, morning diarrhea can follow.
Successful morning diarrhea treatment depends on its cause. Treatment may include a combination of dietary changes and medications.
Avoid the following types of food:
- high-gas producing foods and beverages, including carbonated drinks, raw fruit, and some vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower
- breads, cereals, pastas, and other foods containing gluten
- foods made with FODMAPS, which are any of several types of carbohydrates, including fructose and lactose
Medications sometimes prescribed for IBS include antidepressants. If diarrhea is the problem, but there is no diagnosed depression, antidepressants including imipramine (Tofranil) and desipramine (Norpamine) may help. Anticholinergic medications, such as dicyclomine (Bentyl), can help reduce bowel spasms that may cause diarrhea. Of course, anti-diarrheal medications, such as loperamide (Imodium), may be helpful.
Treating IBD means reducing the inflammation that is causing your symptoms. Some of the first anti-inflammatory drugs you may be prescribed include corticosteroids. Other IBD medications include aminosalicylates, such as mesalamine (Asacol HD), balsalazide (Colazal), and olsalazine (Dipentum). Your doctor may also prescribe immunosuppressant drugs, such as cyclosporine (Gengraf), mercaptopurine (Purixan), and methotrexate (Trexall), to help prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals in the wall of the intestine.
Antiviral or antibiotic medications can treat infections, but be aware that some medications may cause diarrhea too. Be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about all potential side effects of the drugs you’re prescribed.
If stress is causing your morning diarrhea or is responsible for IBS flare-ups, talk with your doctor or a therapist about ways to better deal with the stress in your life.
Once you know the cause of your morning diarrhea, you can take the necessary steps to help prevent future episodes.
Preventing IBS flare-ups, for example, means reducing stress or better managing how you respond to stressful situations. This may be done with counseling, mindfulness training, biofeedback, or progressive relaxation techniques that focus on mental and muscle relaxation. You should also avoid known food triggers.
IBD prevention also requires dietary changes, such as limiting dairy products and consuming more low-fat foods than high-fat foods. You may need to start eating smaller, more frequent meals.
If you believe alcohol is your trigger, consider going without or cutting back on your alcohol consumption and see if that has an effect.
The most common complication from diarrhea is dehydration. It can be a serious health risk for older adults and young children, especially. If you have a weakened immune system, dehydration is also a particularly serious concern.
If the cause of your morning diarrhea is temporary, such as pregnancy or an infection that can be treated successfully with medication, then you should be optimistic.
If the problem is related to diet, alcohol use, or smoking, then it’s up to you to make the necessary lifestyle changes to prevent future problems.
However, if the cause is a chronic condition, such as IBS or IBD, you’ll have to be mindful of your condition every day. A combination of dietary changes, medications, and lifestyle adjustments may be necessary. Future symptom flare-ups may be unavoidable. But you should try to adhere to a treatment plan to limit episodes in the future if possible.
Just be sure to work with your doctor and report any changes in your health. There’s no reason to put up with discomfort if treatment options are available.