Morning Diarrhea: What Causes It and What to Do About It

Medically Reviewed By Kelsey Trull, PA-C
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Infection, stress, and even diet can occasionally cause morning diarrhea. However, frequent episodes may indicate a more serious problem. Sometimes, morning diarrhea will resolve on its own. In other cases, dietary changes and medications may provide relief.

Read on to learn more about morning diarrhea, what causes it, and what to do about it.

What can cause occasional morning diarrhea?

A picture of a toilet viewed through an open door
Jose Coello/Stocksy United

Several conditions can cause occasional morning diarrhea.

Infections

Viruses, bacteria, and parasites can cause morning diarrhea. Rotavirus and norovirus are common stomach viruses.

Salmonella is a common bacterial infection that can develop from eating contaminated food or water. Infection from parasites can happen anywhere but may be less common in developed countries.

Stress

Research shows that your gut and your brain interact. Stress releases hormones and chemicals into your body, including your digestive tract. These hormones and chemicals affect your gut microbiome, which may lead to diarrhea and other digestive symptoms.

Caffeine

According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, drinks with caffeine can have a laxative effect. Some people can tolerate small amounts without experiencing diarrhea. Others may need to avoid caffeine entirely.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is the main source of calories in milk. Some people lack the enzyme that breaks down lactose in the small intestine. If you eat dairy products and lack this enzyme, you may experience diarrhea.

Learn more about lactose intolerance.

Medications

Older research shows that the medications that most frequently cause diarrhea include:

  • antacids
  • nutritional supplements that contain magnesium
  • antibiotics
  • proton pump inhibitors
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

What can cause chronic morning diarrhea?

A few chronic conditions can cause persistent morning diarrhea.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. Various factors may contribute to IBS, including:

  • an impaired gut-brain axis
  • impaired movements in the intestine
  • inflammation
  • neurotransmitter imbalances
  • hormones
  • genetics
  • environmental or psychosocial factors

Learn more about IBS.

Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, can cause chronic diarrhea. While the exact cause is unknown, researchers believe several factors may play a role in the condition’s development:

  • impaired function in T-cells that form part of your immune system
  • an imbalance in your gut microbiome
  • environmental factors
  • diet

Learn more about IBD.

Exaggerated gastrocolic reflex

The gastrocolic reflex is a physiological mechanism that promotes peristalsis, or the movement of muscles in the gastrointestinal tract that pushes stomach contents forward. This reflex is most active in the morning, so people are most likely to have bowel movements early in the day.

Some people may have an exaggerated gastrocolic reflux, which can result in morning diarrhea.

What other symptoms might occur with morning diarrhea?

If you have morning diarrhea, you may find that your stools are watery and that you pass stool more than once. The following symptoms might also occur:

How do doctors diagnose the cause of morning diarrhea?

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical examination. They may also ask about the frequency, consistency, and volume of your diarrhea. Patterns in your symptoms can help doctors narrow down potential causes.

In addition, the following tests can help doctors reach a diagnosis:

  • a stool sample to test for inflammation, bacteria, or parasites
  • blood tests
  • an ultrasound or CT scan

What are the treatments for morning diarrhea?

Treatment for morning diarrhea depends on the cause.

Occasional morning diarrhea

If you have a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection, your doctor may prescribe medications to resolve your symptoms. Dietary changes, like eating bland foods, may also help by not irritating your digestive system.

If you get morning diarrhea after drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks, you may need to limit your caffeine or find another option.

People with lactose intolerance may need to limit their intake of products containing lactose or avoid them.

IBS

A 2016 study found that anxiety and depression are more prevalent in people with IBS. Mindfulness, biofeedback, and relaxation techniques can help you manage IBS symptoms. 

In addition, research from 2017 shows that restricting foods with highly fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) may help manage IBS symptoms. FODMAPs include:

  • eggs, meat, and certain cheeses
  • rice, quinoa, and oats
  • almond milk
  • potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini
  • oranges, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple

IBD

Management of IBD requires dietary changes. Research shows that the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet may help reduce symptoms. The diet encourages eating fresh foods, fermented foods, and bone broth. It also encourages initially eliminating the following foods from your diet:

  • grains
  • legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • dairy and eggs
  • eggs
  • coffee and alcohol
  • refined sugars and oils
  • food additives

While dietary modifications can help reduce symptoms, people with IBD will need to work closely with their doctor to determine the best medical management for their condition.

What is the outlook for people with morning diarrhea?

The outlook for people with morning diarrhea depends on the cause. For example, morning diarrhea resulting from caffeine or lactose intolerance may clear up with some simple dietary changes.

Finding ways to manage your stress could also be beneficial.

The outlook for people with morning diarrhea resulting from chronic conditions IBS or IBD depends on a few factors. Adhering to dietary changes, taking your medications, and making other lifestyle adjustments can help resolve your symptoms.

Identifying the underlying cause and following your doctor’s treatment plan is essential.

What are some potential complications of morning diarrhea?

One of the major complications of diarrhea is dehydration. You can keep yourself well-hydrated by drinking the following:

  • water
  • noncaffeinated teas
  • broths
  • commercial rehydration drinks

In addition, diarrhea can result in malnutrition. Talk with your doctor about changing or supplementing your diet to prevent malnutrition.

Can you prevent morning diarrhea?

You can try to prevent occasional diarrhea that results from infection with good hygiene habits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol.

If you notice diarrhea after consuming caffeine or dairy products, reducing your intake or avoiding those triggers should help prevent morning diarrhea.

If chronic conditions like IBS or IBD are causing morning diarrhea, following the right diet and taking medications as prescribed can help manage your symptoms.

Summary

While occasional morning diarrhea may be easily resolved, chronic morning diarrhea may be a symptom of an underlying condition needing medical treatment.

Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing morning diarrhea. They can help you determine the cause and the appropriate treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Kelsey Trull, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 17
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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