Sometimes you can trace a particularly bad bout of diarrhea directly back to a sketchy chicken salad sandwich you bought at a deli, or a bag of sugar-free gummy bears that you finished off clean. But other times you can't figure out what you could've done to deserve the intestinal trouble.
The truth is that there are many potential causes of diarrhea, so it's not always so easy to pinpoint what brought it on, says Gina Sam, MD, MPH, a gastroenterologist and head of The Institute of Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders and Integrative Health in New York City. Diarrhea can be a result of something mundane, like stress, or "more nefarious causes," like infection and bacteria, Dr. Sam says. Understanding what's causing your diarrhea can help you treat it faster.
While it's normal to experience this from time to time, it's important to bring it up to your doctor if your symptoms last longer than five days, Dr. Sam says. "If the diarrhea is disrupting your life, whether you feel uncomfortable going out or are being kept awake at night, it's time to see your doctor," Dr. Sam says. And remember that, like any other health concern, don't let embarrassment get in the way of seeking the treatment you may need. "We all poop, and there’s nothing wrong with getting a professional opinion," she says.
That said, if you need some help understanding why this fate has befallen you, read on as Dr. Sam explains some common causes for diarrhea.