Osmotic diarrhea

Osmotic diarrhea occurs when too many solutes stay in your intestine and water can’t be absorbed properly.

This excess water causes your bowel movements to be loose or more liquid than solid.

Osmotic diarrhea occurs when eating substances that can’t be absorbed. 

Secretory diarrhea occurs when your body secretes electrolytes into the intestine.

It can be caused a number of factors, including:

bacterial infection such as salmonella and E. coli

parasites such as cryptosporidium and Giardia

viral infection such as norovirus and viral hepatitis

drugs such as misoprostol

digestive disorders such as celiac disease and ulcerative colitis

genetic disorders such as congenital chloride diarrhea

The primary symptom of osmotic diarrhea is loose and watery bowel movements. 

Other symptoms:

stomach pain



Osmotic diarrhea can also have severe symptoms:

blood in stool



Osmotic diarrhea is a result of  eating foods that, instead of being absorbed, draw water into the intestine.

Ingredients that often cause osmotic diarrhea include:

lactose, found in dairy products

artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharine

some carbohydrates found in fruit juices

certain antibiotics

blood pressure medications

laxatives that contain sodium phosphate, magnesium sulfate, and magnesium phosphate


high-dose radiation therapy

gallbladder removal

Osmotic diarrhea treatment: 

Generally responds to simple home treatments including diet adjustment and over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol).

Avoiding the following foods:

lactose-rich foods such as dairy products


artificial sweeteners


caffeinated products like coffee

carbonated drinks

legumes such as beans, lentils

vegetables high in dietary fiber like 

broccoli and Brussels sprouts

nuts and seeds

whole wheat or corn products such as bran muffins and popcorn

Encourage the consumption of:

bread products made from refined white flour, such as plain white bread and pasta

white rice

cooked vegetables such as carrots and beets



baked or broiled chicken without skin

boiled potatoes without skin

Osmotic diarrhea is caused by eating certain kinds of food and usually lasts only a few days, typically resolving once one stops consuming the offending food.

Chronic nocturnal diarrhea is likely the sign of a more serious condition. 

Several gastrointestinal conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome and other functional bowel diseases, do not generally cause nocturnal diarrhea.

It is common for secretory diarrhea to cause nocturnal diarrhea. 

Secretory diarrhea occurs when the intestine cannot properly absorb or secrete electrolytes and fluid. 

Secretory diarrhea can arise from an underlying health condition or from an external factor like alcoholism, surgery, or medication use.

Health conditions that can cause chronic nocturnal diarrhea:

Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease can be caused by several different conditions, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. 

It occurs when you experience chronic inflammation within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Ulcerative colitis occurs in your large intestine. Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere from your mouth to anus. Both are autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation in the GI tract.

There may be blood or mucus in the bowel movements in addition to other diarrhea content. 

Other symptoms of these conditions include pain during bowel movements, fatigue, weight loss, anemia, and chronic abdominal pain. 

This chronic condition can be severe at times and in remission with therapy for others.

Microscopic colitis can cause nocturnal diarrhea even if fasting. 

The condition inflames the large intestine at a microscopic level. 

Diabetes mellitus may be the cause of nocturnal diarrhea. 

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