If you notice your diarrhea looks like mucus, this may be due to a viral infection, food poisoning, or a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Diarrhea with mucus can also be associated with stomach cramps and nausea. Read now for more information on causes and treatment options.
Diarrhea that looks like mucus symptoms
Diarrhea is a condition in which the stool becomes loose, watery and more frequent. While unpleasant, it is likely that everyone experiences diarrhea at some point. The appearance of diarrhea can depend on the cause and vary from person-to-person. Mucus — a substance that can be described as jelly-like — is produced by the intestines to keep the lining of the colon moist and lubricated. Diarrhea that looks like mucus or contains a larger amount of mucus may signal an underlying inflammatory condition, such as an infection.
A small amount of mucus is considered quite normal; however, watery stool in combination with increased amounts of mucus warrants a visit to your healthcare provider.
Common accompanying symptoms of diarrhea that looks like mucus
In addition to diarrhea that looks like mucus, you may experience:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal cramping
- Blood in the stool
- Increased urgency
- Loss of appetite
Seek prompt medical attention if you experience any of the above symptoms, especially if it lasts for multiple days.
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Diarrhea that looks like mucus causes
There are many causes of diarrhea and the common thread lies in irritation of the gastrointestinal tract.
Inflammatory causes of diarrhea may include the following.
- Infectious: Bacterial, viral and parasitic pathogens are a primary cause for diarrhea that looks like mucus. Many of these pathogens can directly infect the cells of the digestive tract and cause irritation resulting in diarrhea. Common pathogens include rotavirus, norovirus, E. coli, salmonella, and giardia. When traveling in developing countries, diarrhea caused by bacteria and parasites is often called traveler's diarrhea.
- Autoimmune: Many conditions that have an autoimmune component, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, can also cause direct and chronic irritation resulting in diarrhea. These conditions include Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Environmental causes can be related to certain exposures or lifestyle habits.
- Diet: Not only can viruses and bacteria infect the digestive tract through contaminated food and drink, but an individual’s specific diet can also be a contributing factor to diarrhea that looks like mucus. Allergies to foods such as cow’s milk, soy, cereal grains, eggs, and seafood may cause chronic diarrhea.
- Medications: Many medications have diarrhea as a side effect. For example, antibiotics are a common perpetrator. Antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria and disturb the natural balance of bacteria in the intestines and can also result in another infection, C. Difficile colitis. Many other drugs that also destroy or distress the intestines, such as cancer drugs, can also result in diarrhea that looks like mucus.
Viral (norovirus) infection
If you ever heard of an entire cruise ship of people coming down with the same “stomach bug,” chances are that was norovirus. Fortunately, norovirus usually goes away on its own after a few days, but is pretty unpleasant and can spread extremely easily. The ...
Viral (rotavirus) infection
Rotavirus infection is a contagious gastrointestinal virus that most often affects babies, toddlers, and young children. It causes severe watery diarrhea, sometimes with vomiting and fever.
Adults may also be infected, though usually with milder symptoms.
Rotavirus spreads very quickly when any trace of stool from an infected child contaminates food or drink, or gets onto any surface. If another child consumes the food or drink, or touches the surface and then their mouth, the child will become infected.
Rotavirus in adults does not usually need a trip to the ER unless the degree of dehydration is severe but dehydration can set in quickly in children and is a medical emergency. A child can die if not treated immediately. Take the child to an emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Treatment consists of drinking fluids or IV fluids in severe cases and supportive care, usually in a hospital. Antibiotics will not help rotavirus because they only work against bacteria.
The best way prevention is frequent and thorough handwashing, as well as washing toys and surfaces when possible. There is now a vaccine that will either prevent rotavirus infection or greatly lessen the symptoms if the child still gets the virus.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
Symptoms that always occur with viral (rotavirus) infection: diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
Symptoms that never occur with viral (rotavirus) infection: constipation, tarry stool
Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness or "stomach flu," is an acute infection of the digestive tract from food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other toxins. It actually has no relation to influenza.
Any food can become contaminated if not prepared under clean conditions, cooked thoroughly, or stored at cold temperatures. Meat, fish, dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the most easily contaminated foods.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and sometimes fever and chills.
Most people recover on their own with supportive care, meaning rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers.
However, dehydration can result if the vomiting and/or diarrhea are not controlled and IV fluids may be needed.
If there is also blurred vision, dizziness, or paralysis, the nervous system may be affected due to botulism. This is a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Proper food preparation and storage, along with frequent and thorough handwashing, is the best prevention.
Top Symptoms: nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), dizziness
Symptoms that never occur with food poisoning: severe fever, being severely ill, bloody diarrhea
Irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the large intestine. It is characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and bowel movement issues that can be difficult to treat. Signs and symptoms of IBS are usually not severe or life-threateni...
Shigella infection, or shigellosis, is an intestinal infection caused by a strain of Shigella bacteria.
Shigellosis is highly contagious through fecal matter. Anyone coming into contact with any trace of feces in food, drink, or surfaces can get the disease. Swimming in contaminated water, even in a chlorinated pool or hot tub, is another source of infection.
Most susceptible are young children; travelers to less developed regions; and anyone with a weakened immune system.
Symptoms include fever; abdominal pain and cramps; and severe diarrhea, which may contain blood.
If not treated, there is the risk of dehydration due to the diarrhea and fever. Young children are especially susceptible.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and testing of a stool sample.
Treatment involves rest and fluids. Most cases clear up within a week. Sometimes antibiotics are used in more severe cases, though antibiotics are not effective against some forms of Shigella bacteria.
The best prevention is frequent and thorough handwashing, and good hygiene when preparing food.
Top Symptoms: diarrhea, general abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, watery diarrhea, fatigue
Symptoms that always occur with shigella infection: diarrhea
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, long-term inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract, specifically involving ulcers and sores of the large intestine (colon) and the rectum. Ulcerative colitis often begins gradually and worsens over time with periods of remission interspers...
New onset crohn's disease
Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the bowel. It is caused by a faulty immune system response which makes the body attack the lining of the intestines.
The disease usually appears before age thirty and can affect anyone. Those with a family history may be most susceptible. Smoking is a known risk factor.
Aggravating factors include stress, poor diet, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
Early symptoms usually develop gradually, but can appear suddenly. These include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, mouth sores, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and blood in stool.
Untreated Crohn's disease can cause ulcers throughout the digestive tract as well as bowel obstruction, malnutrition, and deteriorating general health.
Diagnosis is made through blood test and stool sample test. Colonoscopy, CT scan, MRI, endoscopy, and/or enteroscopy may also be used.
Crohn's disease cannot be cured, but can be managed through reducing the inflammation. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and immune system suppressors may be tried. Excellent nutrition, vitamin supplements, smoking cessation, and reduction in stress can be helpful.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Microscopic colitis is caused by inflammation of the large intestine than can only be seen with a microscope. It is believed that microscopic colitis is caused by an overly aggressive immune response to a certain trigger that can be related to medication, an infection, autoimmune diseases, genetics, or a malabsorption of bile.
Symptoms primarily include watery diarrhea accompanied by abdominal pain, cramps or discomfort, and an urgency to use the restroom.
Treatment depends on the cause, such as halting offensive drugs and taking anti-diarrheal medication or steroids. It is also important to make sure you stay hydrated throughout the recovery period.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), stomach bloating
Symptoms that always occur with microscopic colitis: diarrhea
Symptoms that never occur with microscopic colitis: bloody diarrhea
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Intestinal infection with ameba parasite
Visiting or living in places with poor sanitation can lead to parasite infections that can cause long-lasting diarrhea and stomach pain.
Top Symptoms: nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation, general abdominal pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Diarrhea caused by a bacteria called vibrio
The Vibrio genus of bacteria causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that can be very serious. Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus are two of the species that cause this illness, which is also called vibriosis.
The primary risk factor is eating raw or undercooked seafood, especially oysters from any coastal waters and from the Gulf of Mexico in particular. People with weakened immune systems or liver disease are especially vulnerable to this infection.
Symptoms include fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, sometimes with mental confusion. These symptoms in a person who has recently eaten raw seafood, or has been swimming in ocean or bay water, are considered a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Some types of Vibrio-caused illness can worsen very quickly and lead to dehydration and septicemia, which can be life-threatening.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and lab tests on blood, urine, and stool samples.
Treatment will usually involve hospitalization for intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and supportive care.
Top Symptoms: diarrhea, nausea, stomach bloating, headache, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
Symptoms that always occur with diarrhea caused by a bacteria called vibrio: diarrhea
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Diarrhea that looks like mucus treatments and relief
Treatment for diarrhea can begin at home. However, if your diarrhea worsens, persists, or increases in frequency, you should consult your physician sooner than later.
There are many things you can do at home in order to help alleviate your symptoms:
- Drink water: Though it may seem counterintuitive to drink water when it may feel like your stools are water, keeping hydrated is very important in preventing dehydration and helping recovery. Drink things like water, juices, and broths and try to avoid caffeine or alcohol.
- Rethink your diet: Consider avoiding foods such as dairy products or particularly fatty foods that have been associated with chronic diarrhea.
- Talk to your doctor before taking anti-diarrheal medications: Certain medical conditions and infections — bacterial and parasitic — can be worsened by anti-diarrheal medications because they prevent the body from eliminating the root cause of diarrhea.
When to see a doctor
Most cases of diarrhea that looks like mucus resolve on their own without treatment and the help of at-home remedies above. However, if your symptoms continue, your healthcare provider may suggest the following treatment options:
- Antibiotics: If your diarrhea is caused by a bacterial or parasitic cause, your healthcare provider will prescribe specific antibiotics that target the causative pathogen. It is important to note that viral causes of diarrhea will not respond to antibiotics.
- Medication adjustment: If your healthcare provider determines that an antibiotic is causing your diarrhea symptoms, he or she might lower your dose or switch you to another medication.
- Treat the underlying condition: If your diarrhea is caused by an inflammatory autoimmune condition, your doctor will focus on treatments for the underlying condition in order to alleviate its symptoms/sequelae.
Diarrhea may not seem like a serious condition; however if inappropriately treated, dehydration may occur. Dehydration can be a life-threatening condition as the body needs fluid and its associated electrolytes to maintain homeostasis.
When it is an emergency
Seek medical treatment immediately for the following:
- Fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Frequent vomiting leading to dehydration
- Diarrhea lasting for many days
- Severe pain in the abdomen
- Stools that appear black: Also known as melena
- Stools that contain large amounts of blood
FAQs about diarrhea that looks like mucus
What are signs of dehydration?
Signs of dehydration include symptoms such as thirst, decreased urination, fatigue, dry mouth, darker (more yellow) urine, light-headedness, and a medical phrase called skin turgor which indicates skin that after being pinched does not immediately flatten or return to normal.
What is mucus?
Mucus is a jelly-like substance that plays an important role throughout the body. It lines the body’s tissues and organs and provides a layer of moisture that also serves to protect the organ and trap irritants (especially in the upper respiratory tract).
How long will the diarrhea last?
Duration of symptoms depends on the specific underlying cause or condition. Most cases of diarrhea with large amounts of mucus are associated with viral infection and can last anywhere from days to weeks . Diarrhea that persists for more than a few days needs attention with a healthcare professional.
How can I prevent diarrhea?
There are many habits you can adopt and ways to prevent the development of diarrhea. Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water after activities such as using the bathroom and handling and preparing food can go a long way in preventing both the infection and transmission of bacterial and viral gastrointestinal pathogens. Furthermore, taking precautions while traveling, such as avoiding tap water, drinks or beverages that contain ice and unpasteurized milk products can prevent traveler’s diarrhea.
How can I prevent dehydration caused by diarrhea that looks like mucus?
Replacing fluids that contain electrolytes is key in preventing dehydration and its serious side effects. Water alone is not enough and you must take measures to drink other types of liquids such as broths, sports drinks, and fruit juices. For children or individuals with weak immune systems, solutions such as Pedialyte may be better options.
Questions your doctor may ask about diarrhea that looks like mucus
- Have you experienced any nausea?
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
- Have you lost your appetite recently?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
- Rajan E. Mucus in stool: A concern? Mayo Clinic. Published June 9, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link
- Diarrhea. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated Oct. 23, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
- Symptoms & causes of diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published November 2016. NIDDK Link
- Stool changes: What do they mean? When should I see a doctor? Cleveland Clinic. Updated October 1, 2012. Cleveland Clinic Link
- Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIDDK Link