Chronic Functional Diarrhea

Chronic Functional Diarrhea

Chronic functional diarrhea (CFD) is a chronic condition in which a person experiences diarrhea more than 3 times a day for at least 3 weeks. It is also known as chronic idiopathic diarrhea. CFD is more common among women and affects more than 5 million people in the United States.

CFD is characterized by frequent, watery bowel movements without evidence of an underlying cause such as an infection or inflammatory condition. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, urgency, and bloating. The primary treatment for CFD is dietary and lifestyle changes, such as increasing fiber intake, reducing stress, and exercising regularly. Some medications may also be used to reduce diarrhea or reduce abdominal discomfort.

CFD can be distressing and lead to dehydration, malnutrition, fatigue, and disruption of daily activities due to the need for frequent bathroom trips. It can also be associated with anxiety and depression. It is important to seek medical advice to accurately diagnose the condition and discuss treatment options.

Causes of Chronic Functional Diarrhea

The exact cause of CFD is unclear. It is believed to be related to dysfunction of the gastrointestinal tract. Some factors that may contribute to CFD include:

  • Imbalance of hormones in the digestive system
  • Alterations in nerve signals in the digestive system
  • Low bacteria or microbial balance in the gut
  • Stress and psychological factors
  • Medications, including antibiotics and some types of pain medications
  • Food intolerances and allergies


Diagnosing CFD can be challenging because many conditions can cause diarrhea. A doctor may ask about medical history, lifestyle, and dietary habits to determine the cause. Tests may include blood tests, a stool sample, and imaging tests such as an X-ray or CT scan.


Treatment for CFD will focus on easing symptoms. Diet and lifestyle changes are the first step in treating CFD. This can include eating frequent, small meals, avoiding certain foods (such as those high in fat or fiber), and reducing stress. It is also important to stay hydrated and limit caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks.

Medications may be prescribed to help reduce diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. These can include antidiarrheals, antispasmodics, and anticholinergics. In some cases, probiotics may be recommended to restore bacterial balance in the gut.

Surgery is rarely used to treat CFD and is usually reserved for those who do not respond to other treatments.