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Conquer Tummy Troubles: Understanding the 4 Types of Diarrhea for Relief


Conquer Tummy Troubles: Understanding the 4 Types of Diarrhea for Relief




Picture this: It’s a beautiful summer day, and you’re out exploring your favorite hiking trail with friends. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everything seems perfect—until suddenly, an uncomfortable rumble in your stomach brings your joyful adventure to a screeching halt. You’re struck with the all-too-familiar urgency to find the nearest restroom, as diarrhea strikes without warning.

Whether it’s a minor inconvenience or a more persistent issue, the reality is that diarrhea can throw a wrench into even the best-laid plans and leave you feeling drained, embarrassed, and desperately seeking relief.

But fear not! If you’ve ever found yourself grappling with the woes of loose stools, you’re not alone. In fact, understanding the root causes of diarrhea is the first step towards finding relief and reclaiming control of your gut health.

That’s where this blog post comes in. Consider it your ultimate guide to navigating the murky waters of diarrhea, where we’ll delve into the four main types of diarrhea, explore their underlying causes, and equip you with the knowledge and resources you need to better manage your symptoms and reclaim your comfort.

So, whether you’re dealing with occasional bouts of tummy trouble or facing a more persistent gastrointestinal challenge, let this blog be a resource for you. Because when it comes to diarrhea, knowledge truly is power—and with the right tools at your disposal, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle whatever challenges come your way.

4 Types of diarrhea and loose stool


Understanding diarrhea can be challenging because there are many causes and four distinct types: osmotic, secretory, exudative, and motility-related diarrhea. Knowing which type you’re experiencing is the crucial first step in effective management and treatment.

1. Osmotic diarrhea:


This type of diarrhea occurs when there’s an imbalance of solutes in the intestines, causing water to be drawn into the intestines. Common causes include certain medications, such as laxatives or antacids, as well as certain foods like sugar alcohols (found in some sugar-free products) or lactose (in individuals with lactose intolerance). Below are some root causes to dig into for this specific type of diarrhea: 

  • Malabsorption of certain nutrients or substances, such as lactose (lactose intolerance) or fructose.
  • Consumption of certain medications, including laxatives, antacids containing magnesium, or antibiotics.
  • Overconsumption of sugar alcohols found in sugar-free products, such as sorbitol, mannitol, or xylitol.
  • Presence of osmotically active substances in the intestines, like undigested food particles or poorly absorbed solutes.
  • Bile acid diarrhea: Bile acid diarrhea can contribute to diarrhea through its osmotic effect, often categorized under osmotic diarrhea. Bile acids in excess can draw water into the intestines, leading to watery stools.
  • Malabsorption: Malabsorption can lead to diarrhea through osmotic mechanisms, as undigested or unabsorbed nutrients in the intestine can draw water into the bowels. It’s primarily associated with osmotic diarrhea.
  • Gallbladder sludge: Gallbladder sludge can contribute to diarrhea through its impact on bile release and digestion, particularly after meals. This may lead to osmotic diarrhea as the excess bile can have an osmotic effect on the intestines.
  • Fat malabsorption: Fat malabsorption can lead to diarrhea through its osmotic effect, as undigested fats can draw water into the intestines. It’s primarily associated with osmotic diarrhea due to the presence of incompletely absorbed fat in the bowel.

2. Secretory diarrhea


This occurs when there’s an increase in fluid secretion into the intestines, often due to infections, toxins, or certain medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

  • Acute stress: Acute stress can trigger diarrhea through its impact on intestinal motility and secretion. It falls primarily under secretory diarrhea, where stress hormones like cortisol can stimulate intestinal secretions and speed up transit time.
  • Increased secretory IgA levels can contribute to diarrhea by promoting secretion and inflammation in the intestines. This aligns with secretory diarrhea, where heightened immune activity can lead to excess fluid secretion.
  • Bacterial or viral infections, such as gastroenteritis caused by norovirus or Salmonella.
  • Toxins produced by bacteria, such as those found in food poisoning.
  • Medical conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or hyperthyroidism.
  • Certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs or medications that stimulate intestinal secretions.

3. Exudative diarrhea:


This type is characterized by the presence of blood and pus in the stool, indicating inflammation or damage to the intestinal lining. It can be caused by infections, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), or other conditions affecting the intestines.

  • Parasites: Parasites can cause diarrhea through various mechanisms, including direct tissue damage, inflammation, and secretion of toxins. They typically fall under exudative diarrhea due to their potential to cause inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining.
  • Inflammatory conditions affecting the intestines, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • Infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites that lead to inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining.
  • Conditions like ischemic colitis, where reduced blood flow to the colon can cause tissue damage and exudation of blood and pus.
  • Radiation therapy targeting the abdomen or pelvis, which can lead to inflammation and ulceration of the intestinal lining.

4. Motility-related diarrhea:


Diarrhea can also result from abnormalities in intestinal motility, such as rapid transit of food through the digestive tract. This can occur due to conditions like hyperthyroidism, acute stress, diabetic neuropathy, or after certain types of surgery.

  • Disorders affecting intestinal motility, such as diabetic neuropathy or hyperthyroidism.
  • Surgical procedures involving the gastrointestinal tract, which can alter normal motility patterns.
  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders like dumping syndrome, where food moves too quickly through the digestive system after certain types of stomach surgeries.
  • Neurological conditions affecting the nerves that control intestinal motility, such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.



In the quest for relief from the discomfort of diarrhea, one of the most powerful tools at our disposal lies not in a pill bottle or a prescription pad, but on our plates and in our daily routines. Nutrition, diet, and lifestyle choices play a pivotal role in managing diarrhea and promoting gastrointestinal health. By harnessing the healing power of food and making mindful lifestyle adjustments, we can empower ourselves to take control of our digestive wellness. In this section, we’ll explore the transformative potential of nutrition, supplement, and lifestyle interventions, offering practical strategies to soothe symptoms and foster long-term gut health. 


  • Consume soft, easy-to-digest foods rich in minerals and nutrients, such as soups, broths, smoothies, and easily digestible grains like rice and oats.
  • Avoid foods that may trigger inflammation or exacerbate symptoms, including spicy and greasy foods.
  • Use anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as ginger and turmeric when cooking.
  • Opt for bulking foods like bananas, rice, chia seeds, flax seeds, applesauce, and cooked vegetables.
  • Consume small, frequent meals to ease digestion and prevent rapid transit of food.
  • Increase intake of soluble fiber from sources like fruits and vegetables to absorb excess water in the intestines.
  • Limit consumption of foods high in sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners.
  • Decrease intake of raw vegetables and focus on cooked vegetables to reduce the workload on the digestive system.


  • Discuss with a healthcare professional the use of anti-inflammatory supplements like omega-3 fatty acids or turmeric.
  • Supplement with electrolytes to replace those lost through diarrhea and maintain proper hydration.
  • Utilize soluble fiber supplements like psyllium husk, chia seeds, or flax seeds to regulate bowel movements.
  • Explore herbal remedies like peppermint oil or ginger for their calming effects on the digestive system.
  • Consider probiotics containing strains known to support gut flora balance, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species.
  • Discuss with a healthcare professional the potential use of digestive enzymes to assist in nutrient absorption.
  • Support mineral intake with electrolyte replacements (I have a free mineral guide here)


  • Incorporate regular physical activity into your routine to promote healthy bowel function and regulate intestinal motility.
  • Practice stress-reduction techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to alleviate symptoms exacerbated by stress.
  • Ensure adequate rest and sleep to support overall gastrointestinal health and reduce diarrhea symptoms.
  • Avoid strenuous activities that may exacerbate symptoms, focusing instead on gentle exercises like walking, yoga, or pilates.
  • Practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of infections that can cause diarrhea.


Before implementing any changes to your diet, supplementation, or lifestyle for managing diarrhea, it’s crucial to consult with a qualified healthcare professional. Individual needs, underlying health conditions, and potential interactions with medications should be taken into consideration.

Curious about the root causes of your GI Issues? Take our free quiz here 

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Hi, I’m Dr. Heather

Registered dietitian and helps people struggling with bloating, constipation, and IBS find relief from their symptoms and feel excited about food again.

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