Chronic diarrhea in elderly
Chronic diarrhea in elderly

Chronic diarrhea in elderly

Diarrhea is one of the most common health-related complaints, and interestingly enough, contrary to popular belief, age isn’t even a factor. Diarrhea can happen in people of all ages, but some causes are more likely to cause diarrhea in the elderly. It is essential to know the possible causes of chronic diarrhea in the elderly, as some may indicate a more serious disorder.
In this article, we discuss symptoms, causes, and treatment for diarrhea in the elderly. 


  • Symptoms of chronic diarrhea
  • Causes of frequent diarrhea in elderly
  • Does IBS get worse with age?
  • Treatment for chronic diarrhea in elderly
  • If left untreated
  • FAQ


Symptoms of chronic diarrhea

Symptoms of diarrhea include:

  • Thin or loose stools

  • Watery stools

  • Bloating in your belly

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Urgent need to have a bowel movement

  • Nausea or vomiting


When diarrhea is serious, you may have:

  • Blood in your stool

  • Mucus in your stool 

  • Weight loss

  • High Fever (greater than 101.3 F)

The key factor you need to pay attention to is how long diarrhea lasts. Thus, besides knowing the symptoms of diarrhea, it is essential to know how many days of diarrhea is bad. In case diarrhea in the elderly lasts for 2-3 days, there is nothing to worry about, as it is common and usually does not indicate something serious. But if diarrhea in seniors lasts for at least 4 weeks, it may be chronic diarrhea that a number of conditions can cause. 



Causes of frequent diarrhea in elderly

As mentioned above, diarrhea can happen in people of all ages, and in fact, the most common causes of chronic diarrhea in elderly and young people are usually the same. But some causes are more likely to cause diarrhea in the elderly. The most common causes of prolonged diarrhea in the elderly include:


Osmotic Diarrhea
In simple terms, it is when your body can’t absorb nutrients through your intestines. One example of this is lactose intolerance. Osmotic diarrhea can also occur at a younger age, but there are several reasons why it may be a more common cause among older adults. One reason is that older people often avoid swallowing pills and prefer to take their medications in liquid form, not knowing that many of these liquid medications include sorbitol as a sweetener that can eventually cause diarrhea if taken in large quantities. 

As we age, the likelihood of different diseases increases, and correspondingly the number of medications we take goes up. It is essential to check our medications list if we experience frequent diarrhea, as medications such as antibiotics can become a cause of prolonged diarrhea.

Bacteria or viruses
One condition that is probably more common among older adults is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). As the name suggests, it occurs when there is an increased bacterial population in the small intestine. SIBO can also lead to malnutrition as bacteria start to use the body’s nutrients. If you have SIBO, you may experience pain in the stomach, especially after eating. 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
IBD happens when your immune system functions improperly, meaning that instead of attacking foreign organisms, it attacks your intestines. Most people are diagnosed with IBD at a younger age, although it is possible to have a second peak of this disease at an older age. One condition more likely to occur in senior years is Clostridium difficile infection (C. difficile). The common reason for it is immune senescence and changes to the gut microbiome due to aging.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diarrhea (IBS-D)
IBS is the most common digestive disorder, affecting between 25 and 45 million people in the United States alone. However, most people with IBS experience their first symptoms before 40. Still, the cause of this chronic disease remains unknown, and it is possible you  start to experience IBS-D in your senior years. 

Does IBS get worse with age?

Further research is needed to know whether IBS gets worse or if IBS goes away with age. But one thing that we know for sure is that as you get older, you start to better understand how to live with IBS. The right diet and medications can usually control your symptoms, and the good news is that IBS does not cause bleeding or any other damage to your digestive system.


Treatment for chronic diarrhea in elderly


As mentioned above, treatment for diarrhea in the elderly can be the right diet. It is essential to identify food triggers in order to implement a diet to help diarrhea. Trying to keep a journal of what you eat can make it easy to remember after which meal course your symptoms get worse. When you find foods that you consider to be your food triggers, eliminate that food from your diet to see if your symptoms will improve. 


What foods cause diarrhea in adults?

Here is the list of foods that cause diarrhea in the elderly:

Milk and other dairy products

Pay more attention to whether you have diarrhea after you drink milk or eat dairy products because it may be the case you have lactose intolerance which, is a common cause of diarrhea in the elderly.

Artificial sweeteners

You may have never noticed, but many foods that contain artificial sweeteners have warning labels that they can have a laxative effect; in other words, foods that contain artificial sweeteners can cause diarrhea. 

Foods that contain caffeine

Caffeine can trigger diarrhea even if you do not drink coffee. For example, if you prefer tea instead of coffee, be aware that black and green tea contain caffeine. So try to eliminate any foods with caffeine to see if it is your diarrhea trigger. 

Garlic and onions

Garlic and onions are difficult to digest. In fact, they are considered high FODMAP, which according to research, the small intestine does not absorb very well. 

Broccoli and cauliflower

You may think these vegetables have many health benefits, and while it is true, they also contain high amounts of fiber which can cause diarrhea if your body is not used to processing them. 

Fast food

We all know that fast food has nearly no nutritional value; still, we do not consider that it can cause diarrhea. However, as our body has nothing to extract from it, fast food quickly passes our body, resulting in diarrhea. 

What should an elderly person with diarrhea eat?

While figuring out foods to eat for diarrhea in the elderly, it is definitely worth trying a low FODMAP diet. According to studies, up to 80% of participants report that they experience improvement in their IBS symptoms. So let’s start by understanding what a low FODMAP diet is.  FODMAP stands for foods that create more gas and increase the amount of fluid in the bowel. Thus high FODMAP foods result in gas and diarrhea. So eating low FODMAP foods can improve your diarrhea symptoms. While you may think that it is a very restrictive diet, it does not mean you can't make delicious low fodmap meals that you will enjoy. We prepared a list of foods and recipes to give you ideas for your low fodmap day of eating.

Low fodmap breakfast idea

Low fodmap breakfast idea



Low fodmap pancakes

Here is the delicious recipe of low fodmap pancake that you are sure to enjoy. 

Ingredients for low fodmap pancakes:

  • Plant-based milk (80 ml)
  • Gluten-free flour (120 g)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 banana



  1. Mash the bananas in a bowl with a fork.
  2. Add the eggs and the milk and mix through the fruit.
  3. Add the flour and mix until the ingredients are just combined.
  4. Heat some oil in a pan and bake the pancakes for a few minutes on each side.
  5. Serve the pancakes with low fodmap fruits of your choice (find the list below).


Low fodmap fruits

  • Bananas 
  • Blueberries 
  • Strawberries
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Oranges 
  • Lemon
  • Lime 
  • Mandarins
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple


Low fodmap vegetables

  • Carrot
  • Eggplant
  • Bean sprouts
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomato 
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Lettuce
  • Choy sum
  • Olives
  • Ginger


Low fodmap snacks idea

Low fodmap chia pudding

You may wonder, are chia seeds low fodmap? And the answer is yes, they are! And here is a delicious and easy-to-make low fodmap chia pudding recipe. 

Ingredients for Low fodmap chia pudding:

  • Chia seeds (2 tablespoons)
  • Almond or other plant-based milk of choice (1/2 cup)
  • Vanilla extract (1/8 teaspoon)
  • Pure maple syrup (1 tablespoon)

Toppings for Low fodmap chia pudding:

  • Berries (such as blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries)
  • Bananas (you can also add cinnamon)
  • Nuts and seeds of choice (such as almonds or pecans)


  • Place all ingredients (except topping) in a jar or other container and mix well
  • Set aside for 15 minutes and occasionally stir, so seeds don’t clump
  • Place jar in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours or overnight 
  • Add your favorite topping and enjoy

Low fodmap dinner recipes idea 

The first thing to consider is, is salmon low fodmap? And the answer is yes, salmon is low fodmap, so you can enjoy your delicious salmon dinner without worrying that it can worsen your symptoms. Check out Becky Excell’s 'Three Tray' recipe for low fodmap salmon recipes! 

Anti-diarrheal medicine

Anti-diarrheal medicine can easily and quickly relieve your symptoms of diarrhea. One example of anti-diarrheal medication is Loperamide, which can slow down your system to its normal rhythm allowing your body to start absorbing fluids as it should. The most popular brand name for Loperamide is Imodium, but if you are going to take Loperamide, make sure you buy Generic Imodium, as generic versions are usually much cheaper. But what does it mean when a drug is generic? To understand what generic means, let’s take as an example the Generic Imodium by Well & Worth. In any drug, it is the active ingredient that determines its effectiveness. In this case, Imodium has 2 mg of Loperamide in each caplet, and Generic Imodium by Well&Worth contains 2 mg of exactly the same ingredient. The reason why Loperamide by Well & Worth costs less than Imodium is that the manufacturer does not need to start manufacturing the drug from scratch and spend the millions of dollars it costs to develop the drug.  So make sure you don’t overpay for a drug you need frequently. 


If left untreated

If left untreated, chronic diarrhea can result in complications such as dehydration. Dehydration is particularly dangerous in the elderly as they usually have weakened immune systems. Some common symptoms of dehydration include:
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dark urine
  • Dry mouth or skin
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
Seek medical help if you or your loved one have signs of dehydration. 




Can melatonin cause diarrhea in the elderly?

Yes, melatonin may cause diarrhea, as one of its side effects is an upset GI tract. It may also cause cramps and nausea in some people.

Can chocolate cause diarrhea in the elderly?

Yes, chocolate can cause diarrhea in the elderly as it often contains one of the main diarrhea triggers, which is caffeine.

Is almond milk low fodmap?

Yes, unsweetened almond milk is considered low fodmap unless you  exceed a 1-cup serving.

Is peanut butter low fodmap?

Yes, unsweetened peanut butter is considered low fodmap unless you  exceed 2 tablespoons servings or 32 grams. 

Are tomatoes low fodmap?

Yes, tomatoes are considered low fodmap vegetables. Check out the list of other low fodmap vegetables in this article. 

Is pineapple low fodmap?

Yes, pineapple is considered a low fodmap. Check out the list of other low fodmap fruits in this article. 

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