Hot weather affects the body in several ways. The normal response is to sweat and feel mildly uncomfortable. But sometimes, the effects can be worse especially when the weather is hotter than usual such as during a heat wave.
Some people experience bouts of diarrhoea which don’t seem to be linked to something they ate. Could it be related to the hot weather?
Heat-Related Health Problems
Excess heat does not directly cause diarrhoea but it can aggravate or cause health conditions that cause diarrhoea.
There are 4 main types of health problems associated with hot weather.
- Heat rash is the most common and least serious. It occurs when your body sweats excessively and some of the sweat fails to evaporate from your skin. It is not linked to diarrhoea.
- Heat cramps are a bit more serious. They are painful muscle spasms caused by loss of water and salt as a result of excessive sweating. Heat cramps normally do not cause diarrhoea although they both could occur together as symptoms of heat exhaustion.
- Heat exhaustion happens when your body overheats and you lose a lot of water and salt. Heat exhaustion is very serious and if quick measures are not taken (moving to a shade, drinking water etc.) could lead to a fatal heat stroke. Diarrhoea is one of the symptoms of heat exhaustion though it may not occur in every case.
- Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related health problem and could easily lead to death if corrective measures are not taken immediately. It occurs when the body is unable to regulate its own temperature. In some people, it could result in diarrhoea.
In the case of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, diarrhoea can make things worse because it causes more loss of water from the body. If coupled with vomiting, the situation could quickly escalate.
Several studies have linked excessive heat exposure to worsening stomach problems which could lead to diarrhoea.
In one of the studies, it was found that patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) got worse during periods of prolonged heat waves to the point of requiring hospitalization.
They suffered aggravated IBD symptoms, one of the most common ones being diarrhoea.
Patients with IBD are encouraged to drink a lot of water and stay indoors in a cool environment during excessively hot weather.
Other Possible Causes of Heat-Related Diarrhoea
You may have heard of runner’s diarrhoea. It’s a condition where runners, especially long distance ones, experience loose stool during or after a running session.
It is still not clear what causes it but research suggests that the combination of sustained intense movements and hot weather.
Athletes or individuals exercising in intense heat experience various gastrointestinal problems (GI) including injury to the digestive system. These GI problems could lead to diarrhoea.
Another possible cause of heat-related diarrhoea is stress and anxiety, both of which have already been linked to diarrhoea and other stomach problems.
In hot weather, stress levels are likely to go up because of one reason or another. Even mild dehydration can increase anxiety, which might result in diarrhoea.
Some causes of heat-related diarrhoea are so indirect that you might miss them. Take food poisoning for instance. It occurs more in summer than any other season. One of the reasons is because bacteria thrive more in warm weather.
If you notice that you or your family experience increased bouts of diarrhoea when it’s hot, it could be the food. Take more care with food safety. Do not leave food out in the open for too long and make sure meats are properly cooked through.
How to Prevent and Treat Heat-Related Diarrhoea
Take extra precautions when the weather is hot. Spend most of your time indoors or under a shade. Buy a portable air conditioner. Drink lots of water and take more caution with food safety.
If you start experiencing diarrhoea, make sure it’s not a symptom of heat exhaustion or stroke. Check for other symptoms like dizziness, confusion, dry mouth, excessive sweating and weakness. If they are present, move out of the sun, cool down with water or ice packs and seek immediate medical attention.