Causes of Belly Cramps & Diarrhea

Most everyone experiences diarrhea (loose, watery stools) and stomach cramps at some point in their lives, often without need for medical treatment. When stomach cramps and diarrhea are severe, they may indicate conditions such as food poisoning, irritable bowel syndrome or an intestinal disease, such as pancolitis. If your symptoms are severe or long-lasting, seek guidance from your doctor.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning, also known as food-borne illness, occurs when a person consumes a contaminated food. In most cases the food has been infected with bacteria, parasites (tiny worms), or a virus. According to the Mayo Clinic, stomach cramps and diarrhea are two common symptoms of food poisoning that may occur immediately or shortly after consumption of the contaminated food or within several days. Additional symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, body aches, head ache and/or physical weakness. Most mild to moderate cases of food poisoning dissipate within several days without need for medical care. Severe cases may require doctor’s treatment or hospitalization, particularly if excessive diarrhea or vomiting lead to extreme dehydration or nutrient loss.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) refers to a set of conditions that cause disturbances in the digestive tract that are not linked to a specific disease or illness. Stomach cramping and diarrhea are common symptoms of IBS, along with bloating, constipation and abdominal pain. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, IBS may cause a person immense discomfort or pain, but does not lead to life-threatening diseases, such as cancer. Most people are able to effectively manage or prevent IBS symptoms through dietary lifestyle changes, managing stress or use of various medications. If your stomach cramps and diarrhea are severe or ongoing, seek guidance from your doctor to determine whether IBS or a more serious underlying condition is the culprit.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to a set of conditions that involves inflammation in the digestive tract. According to the Mayo Clinic, diseases such as pancolitis (a specific form of ulcerative colitis) and Crohn’s disease commonly cause diarrhea and stomach cramping. In the case of pancolitis, diarrhea is usually bloody and severe. Additional IBD symptoms may include pain, fatigue and unintentional weight loss, even while you’re consuming adequate amounts of food.

Many people go through bouts of acute IBD episodes, during which symptoms are severe, and periods of remission. If treatment is not sought, the epidodes may eventually become persistent, carrying on without remission. If you suspect a digestive disorder at the root of your symptoms, seek guidance and testing from your doctor. If in addition to cramping and diarrhea you experience bloody stool, run a high fever or have diarrhea symptoms that don’t resolve, seek medical attention promptly.

About this Author

August J. McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as “Healthy Aging,” “CitySmart,” “IAmThatGirl” and “ULM.” She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit – a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.