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Causes of Nocturnal Diarrhea

By April Sanders ; Updated July 27, 2017

The Basics

Diarrhea is a word that is used to define very loose, watery bowel movements. It is a common condition that most people suffer from at least once a year. Some people suffer from chronic diarrhea caused by a chronic disease. Diarrhea is often caused by a virus, bacterial infection or parasite, but it can also be a symptom of a disease or syndrome.

Nocturnal diarrhea is diarrhea that occurs at night, usually when the patient is asleep. This usually signifies a more serious condition. Nocturnal diarrhea is most often due to inflammatory bowel diseases, such as infectious colitis and Crohn's disease, or to the effects of diabetic autonomic neuropathy.

Diabetic Autonomic Neuropathy

Diabetic autonomic neuropathy is a result of diabetes. High glucose levels that remain in the blood cause damage to the nerves in the digestive system, causing nocturnal diarrhea among other symptoms, which may include abdominal cramping and gas.

If you have nocturnal diarrhea and suffer from diabetes, watch your blood sugar levels carefully. In addition, your doctor may suggest eating smaller meals and not eating at night, perhaps even stopping as early as 5 or 6 pm.

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Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are when either the lining of the intestines, (Crohn's disease), colon (infectious colitis) or both are inflamed. Breaks in the lining may appear, causing pain, cramping and diarrhea. Inflammatory bowel diseases are usually caused by a problem with the immune system, which appears to be an inherited trait. The cause of most inflammatory bowel diseases are not known.

Treating inflammatory bowel disease, and getting rid of nocturnal diarrhea, means seeing a doctor for prescription medication. The most common type prescribed is sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), which reduces the inflammation of the lining. If the nocturnal diarrhea is severe, the doctor may also suggest drinking liquids fortified with electrolytes to fight the effects of possible dehydration.

If you have not been diagnosed with diabetes or an inflammatory bowel disease, chances are your nocturnal diarrhea is due to a virus, bacterial infection or parasite you may have picked up. In that case, all you can do is let the diarrhea run its course. If it lasts more than 3 or 4 days, see your doctor as soon as possible.

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