Liquid bowel movements (also known as diarrhea) can happen to everyone from time to time. They occur when you pass liquid instead of formed stool.

Liquid bowel movements are usually caused by a short-term illness, such as food poisoning or a virus. However, they’re sometimes the result of an underlying medical condition.

Because liquid stool can result in excess water losses from the body, it’s important drink more water when you have diarrhea to prevent severe side effects.

If your liquid bowel movements are a side effect of a chronic condition, a doctor can usually help you treat them.

Multiple causes and contributing factors can lead to liquid bowel movements. Examples include:

  • acute illness, such as from exposure to bacteria, viruses, or even parasites that irritate the digestive tract
  • constipation, as liquid stool can escape around harder pieces of stool in the rectum that are difficult to pass
  • digestive tract disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or celiac disease
  • history of damage to the anal sphincter due to childbirth
  • history of surgery to the rectum or anus, such as hemorrhoid removal, tumor removal, or to treat anal abscesses and fistulas
  • malabsorption syndromes that occur because your body can’t absorb certain compounds, such as dairy, carbohydrates, or sugars

Stool is typically brown because of compounds such as bile and bilirubin that are present in the stool. However, if you have liquid bowel movements, you may find the liquid is another color entirely. Some examples include:

Yellow liquid poop

Yellow liquid poop could indicate an underlying disorder in the liver or gallbladder. Bright yellow liquid stool can also be a sign of giardiasis, an infection caused by an intestinal parasite that you can get from drinking contaminated water.

Green liquid poop

Diarrhea can appear green due to green foods you ate or stool moving too quickly through the colon.

Pooping clear liquid

Intestinal inflammation can cause the secretion of mucus in the intestines that causes clear liquid bowel movements.

Black liquid poop

Black liquid poop can be cause for concern because it can indicate bleeding from a location somewhere in the higher portion of the digestive tract. Other potential causes of black liquid poop include taking Pepto-Bismol or iron supplements, or eating foods that are blue or black in color.

Diarrhea that lasts two weeks or less is referred to as acute diarrhea, and diarrhea that lasts longer than four weeks is considered chronic.

Loose bowel movements can have a lot of unpleasant symptoms including:

  • cramping and abdominal pain
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • nausea
  • urgency to have a bowel movement that may result in loose stool
  • vomiting

If you see unexplained color changes in your liquid bowel movement, especially red, black, or tarry stool, seek emergency medical treatment. These symptoms could indicate bleeding in the digestive tract. If you lose too much blood, this can be life-threatening.

If the causes of your liquid poop are acute, symptoms should resolve within a few days. Until you feel better, the goals are to stay hydrated and to rest.

Home remedies

Certain home remedies can ease your symptoms and promote recovery:

  • Avoid dairy products for 48 hours or up to one week after the diarrhea ends, as they can worsen diarrhea symptoms. One exception is probiotic-rich yogurt.
  • Drink plenty of clear liquids, such as water, ginger ale, or clear soup. Some people may suck on ice chips or popsicles to increase their fluid intake. Oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, may also help to restore fluid and electrolyte balance when you’re ill.
  • Eat several small meals throughout the day, and pick foods that are easy on the stomach. These include bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast (also known as the BRAT diet).
  • Refrain from eating foods that are spicy, greasy, or fried, as these can irritate your stomach.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can further dehydrate and irritate the digestive tract.

As you start to feel better, you can add more solid foods into your diet.

Medical treatment

Anti-diarrheal drugs aren’t always the first line of treatment when you have diarrhea. This is because they can actually stop up the bacteria or viruses present in your digestive tract, which can extend your illness.

If you have a high fever or blood present in your stool, avoid anti-diarrhea treatments, such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) and loperamide (Imodium).

If bacterial infections, such as shigellosis, caused your diarrhea, a doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics.

Ideally, liquid bowel movements will resolve on their own as the body passes the bacteria or other harmful factors that were contributing to your illness. However, if you have bloody diarrhea or diarrhea that lasts longer than 48 hours, see a doctor to ensure your symptoms don’t get worse.

A doctor may obtain a stool sample to send to a laboratory to test for the presence of certain bacteria or viruses. They also may recommend interventions, such as examining the intestinal lining via a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.

Liquid bowel movements can lead to cramping, abdominal discomfort, and dehydration.

If your diarrhea persists beyond a few days, see a doctor to determine a potential underlying condition. Until then, staying hydrated and eating bland foods can help you retain your strength and avoid dehydration.

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