Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD, PhD
Occasional morning diarrhea (watery or loose stool) is normal and usually not a cause of concern. However, if diarrhea occurs regularly or persistently (a condition known as chronic diarrhea), there may be something serious.
This article discusses the short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) causes of morning diarrhea, the difficulties that might arise due to diarrhea, and how to manage digestive troubles.
Morning diarrhea can be due to a variety of lifestyle habits.
- Smoking cigarettes
Nicotine in cigarettes can induce loose stools. Smokers taking a puff right before going to bed or the first thing in the morning may experience morning diarrhea. Morning diarrhea can also be the effect of excessive smoking before bed.
- Excess alcohol intake
Drinking too much alcohol might lead to loose stools. Heavy alcohol consumption the night before may trigger morning diarrhea. The gastrointestinal tract might be irritated by alcohol, resulting in loose stools.
- Midnight snacking
Getting up in the middle of the night to eat or munching before bed can trigger morning diarrhea.
- Drinking too much coffee
A study titled “Caffeine as a factor influencing the functioning of the human body—friend or foe?” was published in MDPI in July 2021. The study concluded that caffeine affects various physiological systems, including the digestive system. It raises stomach acid and causes the smooth muscles of the digestive tract to relax. Caffeine increases bowel movements causing loose stools.
- Taking medication
Diarrhea is a common side effect of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Antibiotic medications might cause morning diarrhea, according to research. The study titled ” Acute Diarrhea in Adults” was published in the American family physician journal in 2014.
Diarrhea is usually acute and self-limiting, which means it will not continue long and will go away on its own. This is because it frequently results from a temporary cause. Temporary causes of morning diarrhea include:
- Food poisoning
Food poisoning or a food-borne infection can cause diarrhea. Eating food that has gone bad or infected by bacteria might induce morning diarrhea.
- Viral infection
The most common cause of diarrhea is an intestinal infection known as the stomach flu (the clinical term for which is viral gastroenteritis). A virus that spreads swiftly from person to person is the most common cause.
- Bacterial infection
Diarrhea can be due to bacterial infection. This might develop after traveling or consuming bacteria-infested food. Food poisoning or a food-borne infection can cause bacterial diarrhea.
- Parasitic infection
Morning diarrhea can be caused by parasites. Diarrhea that lasts longer than seven days may prompt a doctor to order a parasite infection test.
A research study titled “Gastrointestinal diseases in pregnancy: nausea, vomiting, hyperemesis gravidarum, gastroesophageal reflux disease, constipation, and diarrhea” was published in Gastroenterology clinics of North America in June 2016. The study highlighted various points on how diarrhea in pregnant women can occur from several causes. Changes in nutrition, food allergies, or hormonal shifts are among the causes of morning diarrhea.
- Psychological stress
Everyone experiences stress differently. Morning diarrhea can occur in some people when under stress. Anything from college exams to a family death could be a source of stress. A study titled “Bifidobacterium bifidum R0071 decreases stress-associated diarrhea-related symptoms and self-reported stress: a secondary analysis of a randomized trial” published in Wageningen academic publishers in 2016 showed certain probiotics can help with stress-related diarrhea.
Dehydration has an impact on electrolyte balance. Electrolytes affect how cell membranes work and convey electrical signals that cause muscles to contract. Thus an electrolyte imbalance can stimulate the gut and induce morning diarrhea.
Diarrhea can also be due to chronic (long-term) illnesses. In these cases, diarrhea may not resolve on its own and may require medical intervention. This is especially true if the condition has the potential to progress and get worse.
Morning diarrhea can be due to one of the following long-term diseases :
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common causes of morning diarrhea. Although specific meals and psychological stress may be triggers, the exact etiology of IBS is uncertain. A study titled “Similarities in clinical and psychosocial characteristics of functional diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea” was published in Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology. This study showed the correlation between IBS and psychological factors.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a broad term that refers to several disorders that cause inflammation in the intestine. Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and indeterminate colitis are examples of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Diarrhea, blood in the stool, weight loss, and abdominal pain can be symptoms of IBD. IBD is diagnosed using tests that look at the lining of the digestive tract for ulcerations.
- Food allergies
People who ingest foods to which they are allergic or sensitive may experience intestinal discomfort, resulting in morning diarrhea. Peanuts, wheat, egg, dairy, and fruit are common dietary allergies.
Diarrhea is a common symptom of lactose intolerance. Lacking the enzyme needed to digest the proteins in cow’s milk leads to lactose intolerance.
Risks of Chronic Morning Diarrhea
Diarrhea for an extended period can lead to additional health issues. Morning diarrhea can cause a loss of water and electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and calcium.
Food moving too quickly through the digestive tract might result in reduced absorption of vitamins and minerals, leading to a vitamin deficiency.
Constant diarrhea can irritate the skin around the anus. Acidic feces and wiping can irritate the skin, resulting in discomfort, damaged skin, and bleeding. Hemorrhoids can also develop as a result of constant diarrhea.
It may not always be able to avoid diarrhea. There are a few things that can help avoid it.
- Handwashing is the best strategy to avoid infective diarrhea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol (CDC).
- When traveling, drink bottled water, eat only cooked foods, and avoid ice or undercooked foods.
- The only way to prevent diarrhea caused by food allergies or lactose intolerance is to avoid the foods that induce symptoms.
Treatment for diarrhea includes reducing inflammation through dietary changes, psychiatric therapy, medicines, and supplements.
Some types of diarrhea may require the use of antidiarrheal medicines. Ensure to talk to a doctor before using any antidiarrheal medicines for morning diarrhea.
If you have persistent morning diarrhea rather than just a few loose stools, it is important to determine the cause. Additionally, you must try to avoid dehydration by increasing your fluid intake.
The daily occurrence of diarrhea is not normal. If the cause is a chronic ailment like IBS or IBD, changes in your diet, medications, and lifestyle modifications can help. Work with your doctor and notify them of any changes in your health. Remember addressing your gut issues is the ideal way to treat them.
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