Stomach cramps and diarrhoea
If you’ve ever experienced an uncontrolled and sudden tightening of the muscles in your stomach, then you’ve likely had a stomach cramp. While they can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, just about anyone can get stomach cramp, and it’s often not serious.
Like stomach cramps, diarrhoea is also a very common condition in adults and children. It’s characterised by passing loose, watery stools more frequently than normal. While it can be unpleasant and distressing, it often lasts just a few days to a week.
Experiencing stomach cramps and diarrhoea is usually no reason to worry, and your doctor can diagnose and treat the problem. However, if you’re experiencing prolonged or repeated bouts of stomach cramps and diarrhoea, they could be the symptoms of an underlying, and potentially more serious condition that requires medical attention.
Here, we’ll explore the common causes of stomach cramps and diarrhoea, and what could be giving your bowel movements a difficult time.
In this guide:
- What can cause diarrhoea and stomach pain?
- Diagnosing stomach cramps and diarrhoea
- How to stop stomach cramps and diarrhoea
- How can I prevent stomach ache and diarrhoea?
- Stomach cramps and diarrhoea FAQs
What can cause diarrhoea and stomach pain?
Common causes of stomach cramps and diarrhoea include:
Stomach flu (food poisoning)
The medical term for ‘stomach flu’ is gastroenteritis. You can contract a stomach flu from several sources, one of them being viruses through a norovirus or rotavirus. Stomach flus can also be caused by eating contaminated food containing bacteria like Escherichia, notoriously known as E. coli. Parasites in contaminated drinking water can also cause stomach flus. A more common term for gastroenteritis due to contaminated food and drink is ‘food poisoning’.
These viruses, parasites, and bacteria can also be spread from person-to-person contact. You may be infected from touching the property of an infected person or greeting them with your hands and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes afterwards.
You can also pick up gastroenteritis from travelling overseas, especially in countries associated with poor standards of public hygiene. This type of diarrhoea is referred to as travellers’ diarrhoea.
Food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, can cause frequent stomach aches and diarrhoea. In simple terms, lactose intolerance refers to the body’s inability to break down lactose – a common sugar found in milk and dairy products. Symptoms such as stomach cramps and diarrhoea can occur a few minutes to hours after eating large amounts of dairy and including them regularly in your diet.
See your GP if you have symptoms of a food intolerance and they keep coming back after eating, you start losing weight, or if you have blood in your stools for three weeks.
Scientists are yet to find the exact link between periods and diarrhoea. However, some experts narrow it down to a drop in progesterone levels and a surge in hormones called prostaglandins before your period begins.
The prostaglandins released trigger smooth muscle tissues to contract and help the uterus shed its lining. However, this action, together with low progesterone levels, is believed to cause a range of symptoms, including diarrhoea and stomach cramps during your period.
Stomach pains and diarrhoea can also be symptoms of a more common digestive condition known as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). IBS is a chronic condition that may require long-term management. A third of the population in Britain have occasional symptoms of IBS, and one in 10 have severe symptoms that require medical attention.
You can also experience diarrhoea with stomach aches and cramps if you suffer from other serious bowel conditions, such as Crohn’s disease. Similarly, ulcerative colitis can cause stomach cramps and diarrhoea. However, you might notice diarrhoea with pus or blood in it. The stomach cramps with ulcerative colitis can also feel crampy and can happen right before a bowel movement.
More serious health concerns
Prolonged diarrhoea can also be the signs of a more serious condition. Get in touch with your doctor if you or your child has had diarrhoea for over seven days.
Other serious symptoms of diarrhoea include blood or mucus in stool and a high fever that lasts for over 24 hours. These could be warning signs of a more severe infection, pancreatis, inflammatory bowel disease, or colon cancer.
Diagnosing stomach cramps and diarrhoea
To determine the root cause of your stomach cramps, your doctor may inquire about your medical history, the medications you’ve been taking, as well as what you’ve recently drunk or eaten. They can then give you a physical examination to check for any signs of belly pain or dehydration.
They’ll also ask questions about the type of stomach pain you have. For example, does it hurt through your entire abdomen, or one particular area? Does it hurt if you eat certain foods?
They can also carry out tests to determine the root cause of your diarrhoea such as:
- Blood tests
- Stool tests
- A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy
- An abdominal exam
- A digital rectal examination.
How to stop stomach cramps and diarrhoea
Some home remedies for stomach cramps and diarrhoea include:
If you have a mild case of diarrhoea, you might not need to take anything. However, you can buy over-the-counter medicine such as loperamide or bismuth subsalicylate as tablets or liquids. It’s also important that you stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids and take small sips of water often. Try getting liquids between meals rather than taking them together with your meals.
To manage stomach cramps associated with diarrhoea, you can use Imodium Dual Action, which contains loperamide to treat diarrhoea and simeticone to help relieve stomach cramps.
You can use a heating pad to alleviate the belly pain. Peppermint tea or chamomile may help with any gas you have. Make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. You also need to get enough rest to ease the stomach pain and to improve the overall health of your body.
When to see a doctor
Prolonged diarrhoea can be a sign of an underlying illness. Get in touch with your doctor if you or your child has had diarrhoea for more than seven days, if you experience bloody diarrhoea, or if there’s bleeding from the bottom.
For stomach pains, consult your GP if you stomach ache persists or worsens quickly, causes problems with swallowing food, peeing becomes painful, or you experience sudden weight loss.
How can I prevent stomach ache and diarrhoea?
Depending on your diagnosis, you can reduce your risk of stomach aches and diarrhoea by following the below tips:
- Maintain high standards of hygiene This is especially important if you have contracted stomach flu. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before eating or preparing food and after going to the toilet.
- Clean the toilet with disinfectant after every diarrhoea episode. This includes the seat and handle.
- Avoid sharing items like towels or utensils, cutlery, flannels if you’re living with others.
- Avoid using water that’s potentially unsafe, like tap water abroad, or eating undercooked food at a restaurant abroad.
- Reduce or avoid eating foods that you are intolerant to.
- Eat smaller portions at more frequent meals.
- Chew your food slowly and thoroughly.
- Ease stress with exercise and meditation.