Watery stools are bowel movements that are loose and highly liquid in nature. There are a number of reasons people develop loose, liquidy stools and while they can resolve on their own in some cases, medical attention may be necessary if they persist or if patients develop other symptoms. Treatment can be provided by a general practitioner or a gastrointestinal specialist, and for some causes, treatment by another specialist such as an immunologist may be necessary.
In people with watery stools, the colon fails to reabsorb water during the digestive process. As a result, when people use the bathroom, their normally solid stools are mixed with a high amount of fluid. It is not uncommon for people to experience bowel urgency and the need to defecate more often than unusual while they have loose, liquidy stools. Also described as diarrhea, watery stools are associated with a number of different medical problems.
If the intestinal tract, especially the colon, is inflamed in some way, water absorption will be reduced and the patient can develop watery stools. Reasons for inflammation include food allergies, food intolerance, and infections. Diet can also play a role and some people may note that certain foods appear to trigger inflammation, as seen in inflammatory bowel disease.
In some cases, the cause runs its course and the stool firms up on its own. Fluid replacement is recommended to keep patients hydrated by making up for the water loss occurring through the stool. Patients can also benefit from eating high fiber foods that will firm up the stool and bland foods that will reduce irritation and inflammation. If watery stools persist, become bloody, or are associated with symptoms like vomiting, nausea, altered level of consciousness, and weakness, it may be advisable to consult a doctor.
A doctor can review patient history, analyze a stool sample for signs of infectious organisms, and perform other diagnostic tests to learn more about why a patient has developed loose, liquidy stools. Medications can be offered to reduce inflammation and protect the bowel. If the patient is severely dehydrated, fluids may be infused to quickly replace the patient's lost water and make the patient more comfortable.
Watery stools can be a common problem while traveling because people are stressed, eating foods new to them, and potentially eating and drinking contaminated food and water. The risk of traveler's diarrhea can be reduced by consuming food and drink prepared in clean settings.