Osmotic Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a condition that causes an increase in the volume and frequency of defecation. Diarrhea is one of the signs of digestive diseases but other disorders out of the gut system can cause it. Normally, diseases that affect your small and large intestine cause diarrhea.

Diarrhea is a serious illness and studies have shown that a large population globally is affected by this condition and many children die as a result of this disease.

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Osmotic diarrhea is a form of diarrhea that occurs as a result of poor absorption of food in your small intestine which creates osmotic pressure that draws fluids into the intestines.

Causes of Osmotic Diarrhea

Osmotic diarrhea occurs as a result of the following:

Malabsorption of lactose: Poor absorption of lactose obtained from dairy products is one of the common causes of osmotic diarrhea. Lactose are broken down into monosaccharides by an enzyme known as lactase before they are absorbed. In case the enzyme lactase is missing in a patient’s body, lactose will not be absorbed and as a result it remains in the lumen of your intestine where it retains water. The unabsorbed lactose may pass and enter your colon where it is fermented by bacteria producing excess gas.

Apart from malabsorption of lactose, artificial sweeteners used in preparing chewing gum and many foods can cause osmotic diarrhea. Another cause of this disease is carbohydrates such as fructose which is used in fruits juices and beverages can also cause diarrhea.

Medical conditions: There are some medical conditions that can cause osmotic diarrhea. They include:

Chronic pancreatitis: This is a condition that causes inflammation in the pancreas. Pancreas is an organ located at the back of your stomach and it produces enzymes that assist in digestion of food and regulates blood sugar. When the pancreas is inflamed, your body will not be able to digest food and control blood sugar.

Pancreatitis can be chronic or acute. Chronic pancreatitis is where the inflammation of the pancreas keeps recurring or it does not get cured for several months. Acute pancreatitis is where the inflammation of the pancreas is abrupt and lasts for a short period.

Pancreatitis can occur as a result of the following:

  • Long-term abuse of alcohol– Drinking alcohol for a long period of time can damage your liver as well as the pancreas. Studies have shown that 70% of inflammation in the pancreas is as result of alcohol consumption.
  • Autoimmune diseases: This is a condition where your immune system wrongly attacks tissues and organs such as pancreas leading to inflammation.
  • Stones: Presence of gallstones or pancreatic stones in the pancreas can block the pancreatic duct thus causing inflammation in your pancreas.

People with pancreatitis may experience problem with absorbing nutrients. Since your pancreas is inflamed, it is not producing sufficient enzymes to facilitate absorption of nutrients.

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It also causes diabetes disease. Pancreatitis damages the pancreas cells that produce glucagon and insulin which causes increase in blood sugar.

Celiac disease: This is a condition that occurs as a result of your body’s reaction to gluten, a certain protein found in barley and wheat.  People with celiac disease will have a reaction in their small intestine when they eat gluten foods. This reaction can destroy the walls of your small intestine making absorption of nutrients difficult. Damage to your intestinal walls causes diarrhea, anemia and fatigue.


Osmotic diarrhea exhibits the following symptoms:

You will experience watery and loose stools that occur abruptly. The stool may also change in their consistency and frequency. Patients complain of cramps in the abdomen as soon they pass stool. You may also experience forceful removal of stools. Patients also feel pain in the abdomen and the abdomen may appear distended or swollen.

Normally patients with diarrhea have other symptoms such as nausea, high fever and streaks of red stool. These symptoms develop within few hours of drinking or eating. Patients feel generally tired due to loss of water.


Diarrhea is diagnosed through a thorough physical exam and several tests. In physical exam, your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and review the medications you use.

Your doctor can order the following tests to diagnose diarrhea:

  • Blood test: A sample of your blood will be taken and a complete count blood test done to help determine the cause of your condition.
  • Stool test: You will be required to collect a sample of your stool and take it for analysis. Your doctor examines the stool to confirm diagnosis of your condition.

Treatment for osmotic diarrhea

Osmotic diarrhea can be treated by a combination of medications and home remedies. The following treatment options can be used to provide relief from diarrhea:

Medications: In case bacteria are the cause of diarrhea, antibiotics will be recommended to treat it. For viral infections, antiviral medications will be prescribed.

If other medical conditions are the cause of diarrhea, your doctor will prescribe medications to treat them.

Home remedies: You can try the following home remedies to alleviate the symptoms of diarrhea:

  • Drink water and juices that contain potassium and soup that has sodium. Avoid apple juice because it can aggravate diarrhea.
  • Include low fiber foods in your diet to improve bowel movement. Eat foods such as rice, chicken and eggs.
  • Avoid certain foods such as dairy products and high fiber foods.
  • Try medications such as bismuth subsalicylate to control your bowels.


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