A liquid bowel movement, or diarrhea, is usually caused by short-term illnesses like food poisoning or a virus. However, it can result from a different underlying medical condition.
Diarrhea can happen to everyone from time to time. It occurs when you pass liquid instead of formed stool.
Because liquid stool can result in excess water losses from the body, it’s important to 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 or manage them.
Multiple causes and contributing factors can lead to liquid bowel movements. Examples include:
- acute illness, like from exposure to bacteria, viruses, or parasites that irritate the digestive tract
- constipation, since liquid stool can escape around harder pieces of stool in the rectum that are difficult to pass
- digestive tract disorders, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or celiac disease
- history of damage to the anal sphincter from childbirth
- history of surgery to the rectum or anus, like hemorrhoid removal, tumor removal, or treatment for anal abscesses and fistulas
- malabsorption syndromes that happen when your body can’t absorb certain compounds, like dairy, carbohydrates, or sugars
Stool is usually brown because of compounds like bile and bilirubin that are present in it. But 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 unclean water.
Green liquid poop
Diarrhea can appear green due to green foods you ate or stool moving too quickly through your colon.
Pooping clear liquid
Intestinal inflammation can cause the secretion of mucus in the intestines. This 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 2 weeks or less is known as acute diarrhea. Diarrhea that lasts longer than 4 weeks is considered chronic.
Loose bowel movements can have a lot of unpleasant symptoms, including:
- cramping and abdominal pain
- urgency for bowel movements that may result in loose stool
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. Losing too much blood can be life threatening.
Diarrhea, especially when severe or chronic, may cause other complications in your body. These include:
- electrolyte imbalance
- acute kidney injury
You should always inform your doctor if you experience severe or consistent diarrhea lasting more than 2 days.
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 rest.
Certain home remedies can ease your symptoms and promote recovery:
- Avoid dairy products for 48 hours or up to 1 week after diarrhea ends since they can worsen diarrhea symptoms. One exception is probiotic-rich yogurt.
- Avoid consuming too many raw vegetables or fruits with skin on them since they can be hard for an irritated digestive tract to digest.
- Drink plenty of clear liquids, like water, ginger ale, or clear soup. Some people may suck on ice chips or popsicles to increase their fluid intake. Oral rehydration solutions, like Pedialyte, may also help restore fluid and electrolyte balance when you’re ill.
- Eat several small meals throughout the day made up of foods that are easy on the stomach. These include bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. This is also known as the BRAT diet.
- Avoid foods that are spicy, greasy, or fried, since they 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 to your diet.
Anti-diarrheal drugs aren’t always the first line of treatment when you have diarrhea. This is because they can actually back up the bacteria or viruses 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, like 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 or regular diarrhea that lasts longer than 48 hours, contact a doctor to make sure your symptoms do not get worse.
A doctor may obtain a stool sample to send to a laboratory to test for the presence of certain bacteria, parasites, 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 lasts longer than a few days, contact a doctor to determine a potential underlying condition. Until then, staying hydrated and eating bland foods can help you regain your strength and avoid dehydration.