Why do cold symptoms and diarrhoea sometimes occur together?

The purpose of this page is to investigate why cold symptoms and diarrhoea, which appear as two separate sets of symptoms, may happen simultaneously. 

A person might link the common cold with problems in their respiratory system such as sneezing, coughing, or having an irritated throat; however, it can be puzzling when one also experiences gastrointestinal signs like diarrhoea. 

On this page, we will try to understand what causes these symptoms and how they might be related. Understanding these connections can help gauge the health situation, manage symptoms, and know when medical attention is needed.

Is there a correlation between cold symptoms and diarrhoea?

A common cold and diarrhoea typically involve different parts of the body, with colds primarily affecting the respiratory system and diarrhoea impacting the gastrointestinal system. While it’s unusual to see these two sets of symptoms together, there can be cases where they co-occur.

The typical image in people’s minds when they hear “common cold” is a grouping of symptoms related to the respiratory system, which normally involves having a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, and having a sore throat along with coughing. Many times, these symptoms may be experienced with others such as feeling slightly tired, having a mild fever, or getting a headache. Having a cold can be an annoyance and cause discomfort; it usually stays mild and goes away in about 1-2 weeks.

In general, symptoms of a common cold are related to your respiratory system and are not connected to digestion. Having symptoms of a cold, along with diarrhoea at the same time, can be puzzling and make you worry about what might be causing this situation. This uncommon mix might cause us to wonder if the sickness is worse than a normal cold or if there’s some other element involved.

Knowing why these two sets of symptoms, respiratory and gastrointestinal, might occur together is important, which helps determine whether you’re experiencing a common cold or another infection, as well as potentially complex conditions. A proper understanding can show you how to handle symptoms and help you determine when you should look for medical help since a cold does not show signs like diarrhoea.

What are the common causes of a cold and diarrhoea?

Usually, a cold and diarrhoea affect separate areas of the body, with a cold affecting the respiratory system and diarrhoea influencing the gastrointestinal system.

Common causes of cold symptoms

Rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, and adenoviruses are the usual causes of the common cold. These viruses mainly attack the upper respiratory system, causing symptoms like sneezing, coughing, having a sore throat, and feeling blocked up or congested.

Common causes of diarrhoea symptoms

Gastrointestinal infections, foodborne illnesses, and intolerances or reactions to medications can cause symptoms of diarrhoea. The usual suspects are viruses such as norovirus and rotavirus, and bacteria like Salmonella or Escherichia coli.

Seeing these two groups of symptoms at once is not typical, but there might be certain situations where they present together.

In what situations do cold symptoms and diarrhoea co-occur?

Respiratory viruses that affect the GI tract

There are a few special kinds of respiratory viruses, like particular strains from the adenovirus family, which may trigger both signs in our respiratory system and problems with digestion.

Secondary infections

An individual experiencing a cold or respiratory condition may encounter a secondary infection like a bacterial infection in their gastrointestinal system which can result in diarrhoea.

Medicines and treatments

Certain drugs, which are available without any prescription, that people take for curing the symptoms of a cold can cause side effects which affect their digestive system, leading to diarrhoea.

Stress and a weak immune system

Stress or a strong response from your immune system to an illness can sometimes result in an upset stomach, which includes symptoms such as diarrhoea and cold-like symptoms.

When to seek medical attention for cold symptoms and diarrhoea

Severe dehydration

If you are very thirsty, pass urine that is very dark, or feel like you might faint or have less urine than normal, get medical help right away.

High fever

If you have a fever of more than 39.4°C (103°F), or if it lasts longer than three days, there might be a serious underlying medical condition.

Symptoms continue/get worse

 If the symptoms of a cold, like diarrhoea, don’t improve after one week or get worse, you should talk to a medical professional.

Persistent abdominal pain

If you’re undergoing persistent or severe abdominal pain alongside diarrhoea, you may require prompt medical evaluation and intervention.


colonoscopy procedure

Can you have diarrhoea with a cold?

Certainly, it is possible to have diarrhoea with a cold but this does not happen often. When you have a common cold, it primarily impacts the respiratory system and not the guts. However, some viruses might bring about symptoms related to the gastrointestinal tract too—these could result in diarrhoea as well as other signs of having a cold.

Can drainage from a cold cause diarrhoea?

Sometimes, but not frequently. Postnasal drip occurs when mucus from the nose and sinuses drains into the throat, potentially causing an upset stomach that could lead to diarrhoea. However, this is not often a main cause of diarrhoea.

Does diarrhoea mean the end of a virus?

Possibly not, as diarrhoea can happen at various phases of a viral infection. It doesn’t always indicate that a virus is ending or that you’re recovering. Keep an eye on other symptoms and how the person feels in general to comprehend the advancement of this sickness. If the diarrhoea continues or gets worse, it is necessary to consult a doctor.

Consult a gastrointestinal specialist to control cold symptoms and diarrhoea

If you aren’t certain of what is causing your gastrointestinal symptoms, or if they present with worrying signs, it’s always best to consult a gastrointestinal expert. If you have symptoms of a common cold and also experience diarrhoea, it’s important to know that these could be the cause of various factors or one main issue may be influencing several systems in your body. 

Keep taking care of yourself by drinking water, getting rest, and using suitable over-the-counter medications while you wait for your appointment. But if things get worse or severe symptoms appear, don’t delay getting medical help.