Why do Antibiotics cause Diarrhea?

Why do Antibiotics cause Diarrhea?
Published : Apr 05, 2024
Last Updated : Apr 05, 2024

Diarrhea is among the common side effects that may appear during the use of antibiotics. The use of antibiotics can disrupt the bacterial balance in the intestine, and it may lead to Antibiotic-related Diarrhea. 

Generally, antibiotics help treat bacterial infections. By killing harmful bacteria, Antibacterial drugs effectively relieve symptoms of bacterial infections.

However, Some antibiotics are more likely to cause Diarrhea. Certain antibiotics like Penicillins and Cephalosporins may induce Antibiotic-associated diarrhea. 

Moreover, experiencing Diarrhea while using an antibiotic drug is common. But let's understand what exactly causes it, and is there any way to prevent it? You may have many questions regarding diarrhea due to antibiotic use, so let's discuss more in this article. So, Read on to know more.

Can Antibiotics cause Diarrhea?

Yes, the use of antibiotics can cause diarrhea, and here's why this happens.

Antibiotics target bacteria when treating a bacterial infection. Antibacterial drugs take advantage of the structures and processes that bacterial cells have. Bacterial cells are different from human cells. So, Antibiotics do not cause any harm to our cells. As a result, they kill both good and bad bacteria living in your intestines.

So, during treatment of a bacterial infection, good bacteria may also get killed, unfortunately. Not all bacteria are bad, and Good bacteria play a role in keeping you healthy. When antibiotics disrupt the balance of these bacteria in our body, they may cause some unwanted health issues. For example, killing off the good bacteria, besides the bad bacteria, is the possibility of looser stools.

Also, these good bacteria help by keeping an eye on the growth of opportunistic bacteria. For example, if antibiotics kill off good bacteria, Clostridium difficile, known as C. diff, may cause infection. Toxins produced by C. diff may lead to inflammation in your intestines and cause symptoms like Diarrhea.

Symptoms of Antibiotic- related Diarrhea

Diarrhea caused by antibiotics can result in watery stools three or more times per day when undergoing treatment.

The symptoms may appear about a week after you start taking antibiotics and develop in the weeks after you finish the treatment.

During Diarrhea, if you develop C. diff infection, then you may face additional symptoms like:

  • Low-grade fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea

Are some antibiotics more likely to cause diarrhea?

Although all antibiotics can cause Diarrhea, some types are more likely to do so. Still, it's unclear why antibiotics are more likely to induce symptoms like Diarrhea.

Antibiotics with higher chances of causing side effects like Diarrhea are:

  • Penicillins such as Amoxicillin and ampicillin
  • Clindamycin
  • Cephalosporin such as Cefpodoxime, cephalexin

What foods should you eat to treat Antibiotic-associated Diarrhea?

If you experience Diarrhea due to the use of Antibiotics, Following changes in your diet may ease your symptoms. You can follow general suggestions like:

  • Eat low-fiber foods: Experts suggest high-fiber foods when you're healthy, but if you have diarrhea, it may worsen your condition. So, make sure to eat low-fiber foods when you have diarrhea.
  • Replenish lost fluids and salts: During Diarrhea, you may lose fluids and electrolytes more rapidly. So, make sure to replace fluids and properly ingest them.
  • Replace Potassium: During Diarrhea, you may lose nutrients like potassium. Eat foods that contain potassium to help regain it.

Based on the above-given suggestions, you can try the following food items during such a situation:

  • Grains: White rice. white bread and noodles
  • Fluids: Water, broths, and decaffeinated tea
  • Peeled potatoes(boiled or baked) contain potassium
  • Yogurt(contains live cultures)
  • Protein: Lean meats, fish and poultry
  • Fruits: Bananas, Small amount of canned fruit without syrup and applesauce

What foods should you eat during Antibiotic-associated Diarrhea?

Following food items can worsen your symptoms and interfere with antibiotic treatment. So, make sure to prevent:

  • Caffeinated beverages: Coffee, tea and soda
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Fatty foods: Fatty meats, baked goods, french fries, potato chips and other fried food items
  • Diary products(Aside from yogurt)
  • High-fibre foods: Whole grains. legumes and most fruits and vegetables
  • Foods or beverages that have high sugar, like fruit juices, cakes, sodas, and cookies
  • Avoid Grapefruit
  • Do not use calcium supplements

Other self-care remedies

Regain lost fluids

During diarrhea, you may lose fluids, which puts you at risk of dehydration. Stay hydrated, drink plenty of water, and take oral rehydration solutions like Pedilyte for children.

Take Anti-diarrheal medicines with caution.

Consult with a doctor if you are facing Diarrhea during an antibiotic treatment. They may suggest anti-diarrheal medications like Loperamide(Imodium). Take the suggested medicine with caution. Avoid prolonged use of your prescription drugs.

When to see a doctor

If children under three months old have Diarrhea, then they may need medical care. Also, a person with a history of C. diff or a weakened immune system should seek prompt medical care. While other individuals should seek medical care if they experience:

  • Signs of C. diff, such as severe illness or blood diarrhea
  • Signs of severe dehydration, feeling weakness, sunken eyes, or dehydrated skin
  • Fever or feeling very sick
  • Diarrhea that gets steadily worse

What are some ways to prevent diarrhea when you take antibiotics?

Follow below given suggestions to prevent the risk of having Diarrhea during Antibiotic use:

Try Probiotics: Probiotics may help you regain good bacteria in your digestive system. You may use them during an antibiotic treatment under the doctor's suggestion.

Follow medication instructions properly and take your antibiotics exactly as prescribed.

Practice good hygiene and wash your hands frequently, as it may prevent the spread of C. diff bacteria.

Take your antibiotics only when needed and as long as they are prescribed. Overusing them can impact your digestive health and cause other issues.

Talk to your doctor if you've had diarrhea while taking antibiotics before, and let your doctor know about your symptoms. They may prescribe antibiotics with a lower risk of causing issues like diarrhea.

Final lines on the Topic

Some antibiotics can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the intestines, leading to diarrhea, a common side effect. Antibiotic-associated Diarrhea often occurs due to the elimination of harmful and beneficial bacteria with antibiotics. Symptoms may include watery stools, abdominal pain, and fever, with certain antibiotics, like penicillins and cephalosporins, posing a higher risk.

Dietary adjustments such as consuming low-fiber foods and replenishing lost fluids can help manage symptoms. However, it's crucial to consult a doctor if diarrhea persists or worsens. Probiotics, proper medication adherence, and good hygiene practices can aid in prevention.