Diarrhea and Pregnancy – Everything You Need to Know

FAQ

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When you’re pregnant, you go through a lot of hormonal changes. These can result in digestive issues like gas, constipation, and diarrhea. Yet, that doesn’t always mean that diarrhea in pregnancy is normal. It could be due to a bowel disorder or infection. With this in mind, it’s pretty important to find out as much as you can about diarrhea during pregnancy and what it could mean for you, so read on to learn more.

What is Diarrhea?

Doctors say that diarrhea is three or more watery, loose bowel movements in one day. If diarrhea persists, it can result in malnutrition and dehydration. When you’re pregnant, this could harm not only you but also your growing baby. That’s why pregnant women suffering from long-lasting or severe diarrhea should get medical attention quickly.

Is Diarrhea Ever Normal?

Although it’s natural to worry when you’re pregnant, rest assured that diarrhea is a common condition and can affect anybody. This includes pregnant women. The American College of Gastroenterology has no recent research about diarrhea and its prevalence in pregnancy, but there are not usually any causes for concern.

Can Hormonal Changes Cause Diarrhea In Pregnancy?

One change known to cause diarrhea during pregnancy is the increase in levels of prostaglandin in the body. Prostaglandins like oxytocin stimulate uterine contractions and also increase the movement through the digestive system. If stools move too rapidly through the bowel, diarrhea can be the result. It is increased levels of prostaglandin that can also result in diarrhea in your menstrual cycle.

Synthetic prostaglandins, like a medication known as Cytotec or misoprostol, often have a side-effect of diarrhea. The reason for this is that misoprostol causes the stools to absorb more electrolytes and water from the stomach, causing diarrhea. Misoprostol is a drug that is commonly used during the induction of labor.

Could Diarrhea be an Early Indicator of Pregnancy?

Some women experience diarrhea when they’re trying to conceive and wonder if they are pregnant. However, diarrhea around the time your period is normally due isn’t a tell-tale sign of pregnancy. Indeed, the hormonal changes that occur during the early days, weeks and months of pregnancy can result in episodes of diarrhea. There are lots of other reasons why you may have loose stools at this time. Firstly, as we’ve already pointed out, increased prostaglandin levels during your menstrual cycle can result in diarrhea just before your period begins. Also, your bowel issues could be due to another problem such as food poisoning or a bowel disorder. There are many other early indicators of pregnancy that are more reliable than diarrhea, such as sore breasts, feeling nauseous, and extreme fatigue.

Is My Diarrhea Infectious?

Although many cases of diarrhea during pregnancy are nothing to worry about, in some cases, they could be the result of a bowel infection. In such cases, you wouldn’t just have watery, loose stools. You would also have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Blood in the stools
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Chills and fever
  • Light-headedness and dizziness

There are several organisms known to cause infectious diarrhea including Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Shigella or Salmonella genera. Several viruses can cause infectious diarrhea including rotavirus and norovirus. Some parasites may also cause infectious diarrhea including Cryptosporidium enteritis and Giardia lamblia.

You may be infected with harmful organisms like these by consuming water or food that has been contaminated. If you have traveled to a developing country you could be at a high risk of infectious diarrhea.

Is Diarrhea in Pregnancy a Sign of a Bowel Disorder?

If you’re suffering from chronic diarrhea you may have a bowel disorder. There are several known bowel disorders including:

  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Celiac disease
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine

These conditions cause other symptoms, including:

  • Cramping and abdominal pain
  • Bloating and gas
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Joint and skin problems
  • Anemia

If you experience diarrhea along with any of these other symptoms you should see your doctor and get tested.

Are There Any Other Causes of Diarrhea in Pregnancy?

There are some other causes of diarrhea during pregnancy as well as all the above. It could result from:

  • Food allergies or intolerances
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Dietary changes
  • Certain medications
  • Eating food that contains sugar alcohol. For example mannitol, xylitol or sorbitol

Should I See A Doctor?

If diarrhea persists in the long-term or is extremely severe it can result in malnutrition and dehydration. These are harmful, not only to you but to your growing baby. Therefore, in some cases, it’s best to visit your doctor to get medical care, especially if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Diarrhea lasting for more than 48 hours
  • Stools containing pus or blood
  • A fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • 6 or more episodes of diarrhea during any 24-hour period
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Severe abdominal or rectal pain
  • Dehydration symptoms including thirst, dark urine, urinating less, feeling lightheaded, or a dry mouth

Your doctor will be able to assess your symptoms and get you the treatment you need so both you and your fetus can stay safe and healthy.

Are There Any Home Treatments for Diarrhea During Pregnancy?

If you aren’t experiencing any of the above severe symptoms, you can treat your diarrhea at home during pregnancy. There are many things you can do to help yourself to feel better. These include:

  • Staying hydrated by drinking liquids that contain electrolytes. Sports drinks, clear soups, broths, fruit juice and caffeine-free soda all contain electrolytes.
  • Eating bland foods like applesauce, plain potatoes, rice, toast or saltine crackers helps avoid loss of electrolytes.
  • Avoiding foods known to worsen diarrhea. These include dairy products, foods high in sugar or fat, or drinks that contain caffeine.

Can I Take Medication For Diarrhea In Pregnancy?

Before you take any type of diarrhea medication when you’re pregnant you should talk with your doctor. Some diarrhea medications could be harmful in pregnancy and some others haven’t yet been proven to be safe. Although there have been no links found between taking Imodium (loperamide) in pregnancy’s first trimester and any serious fetal abnormalities, it’s best to ask your doctor’s advice on these matters. They may also need to prescribe you an oral rehydration solution.

You should definitely avoid taking Lomotil (diphenoxylate-atropine) or Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicyclate) during pregnancy as neither of these medications are recommended by the ACG at this time. Lomotil has been linked to harm to the fetus during the second and third trimesters, while Pepto-Bismil is known to increase the chance of your baby having a low birth weight. It also mkes a neonatal hemorrhage more common and may also increase the incidence of perinatal mortality.

Is Diarrhea More Common During the Third Trimester?

Many women find that, as they approach their due date, they suffer more frequently from diarrhea. One reason for this is that your body is beginning to prepare for labor. Don’t panic though. If you have diarrhea it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to go into labor imminently. There’s no cause for alarm if diarrhea happens more often at this stage of your pregnancy.

Could Diarrhea in Pregnancy Cause a Miscarriage?

Many pregnant women become very worried that diarrhea could result in a miscarriage. It’s easy to see why this could be a concern. This is because the cramps that come along with diarrhea often feel similar to the cramps that are experienced during a miscarriage. The bowels and uterus are also in the same area of your body, so it isn’t too surprising that some pregnant women fear that their loose stools could be the first sign of losing their baby. However, there’s nothing to worry about in this regard. The body systems belonging to the bowels and the uterus are entirely separate. The digestive organs and reproductive organs work independently of each other, so just because you have a bout of diarrhea doesn’t mean that a miscarriage is imminent.

Should I be Worried if I Have Diarrhea in Pregnancy?

Many women worry that if they suffer from any minor ailment during pregnancy it will harm their growing baby. However, you can rest assured that diarrhea happens frequently to all kinds of people, including pregnant women. Bowel infections, underlying bowel problems, and hormonal changes may all result in episodes of diarrhea in pregnancy. Usually, it will subside quite quickly and you’ll be back to normal in no time.

If your diarrhea persists for longer than 48 hours, though, you should contact your doctor. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms like frequent vomiting, bloody stools, dehydration or fever, you should also seek out immediate medical attention. This is the best way to ensure that you get the treatment you need to keep you and your baby safe and well.

You should also avoid taking any type of anti-diarrhea medication without consulting your physician first. Try drinking lots of water, soup, and clear broth to prevent dehydration. Also, eat bland foods and avoid caffeine-containing, fatty or sugary foods and see if that clears the problem up. You should soon be back to normal and, if not, then it is time to consult your doctor.