Dealing with Diarrhea

Christina Dodd 

Diarrhea is probably the most common digestive ailment affecting the body and almost everyone will experience a bout of diarrhea at some point in their lives. It is typically characterized by the frequent need to use the bathroom, and loose, watery stools. Sometimes painful gas and cramping may accompany bouts of diarrhea.

Causes

Diarrhea can result from a large range of factors. These include:

  • Diseases – viral infections, parasites, and bacterial infections.
  • Sometimes diarrhea may be a symptom of a serious illness like dysentery, cholera, or botulism.
  • Underlying medical conditions like Crohn’s disease.
  • Dairy in individuals who are lactose intolerant.
  • Allergies to wheat, rye, and barley (also known as celiac disease).
  • Pernicious anemia.
  • Certain medications.
  • Alcohol – inhibits the body’s ability to absorb water. Instead, the alcohol is absorbed by the intestines, causing toxicity and further loss of water extracting capabilities. This triggers the intestinal lining to shed fluid until the alcohol is removed from the digestive system.
  • Malabsorption
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Certain cancers
  • Laxatives
  • Diabetes
  • Endurance sports

Treatment

Usually, mild cases of diarrhea are best treated by drinking plenty of fluids and replacing lost nutrients while letting it run its course.

Certain medications may be prescribed for the pain associated with diarrhea, or to stop it. However, anti-diarrhea medicines may not be the best option if your diarrhea is the result of your body’s attempt to detoxify itself, or rid itself of microbes.

While experiencing diarrhea, it is best to avoid certain foods that may aggravate your symptoms like sugary products, spicy foods, caffeine, milk products, high fiber foods, and excessive fats. Instead, stick to a very plain and soft diet until you are feeling better. Recommended foods include bananas, white rice, boiled potatoes, plain toast, crackers, cooked carrots, and skinless chicken.

Complications

Due to the large amount of water lost during diarrhea, dehydration is one of the main complications. Dehydration can be dangerous for older adults, children, and those with underlying medical conditions. It is important to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes during cases of diarrhea. Good choices are broths and soups with sodium, as well as fruit and vegetable juices with potassium. Common symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Dark colored urine
  • Thirst
  • Infrequent urination
  • Dry skin or eyes
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness

When should I call my doctor?

If you have had diarrhea for more than three days without a lessening in symptoms, are experiencing severe pain, have a fever of 102 or higher, experience signs of dehydration, or discover blood in your stool, you should consult a medical professional.

Diarrhea while traveling

Many travelers experience diarrhea on their trips due to the change in eating and sleeping patterns. Intolerance of different water, foods, and environmental factors may also contribute. However, travel to certain countries raises the risk for bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection. In order to prevent these forms of diarrhea, avoid:

  • Drinking tap water or using it to brush your teeth
  • Drinking raw milk or eating raw dairy products
  • Using ice made with tap water
  • Raw fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled
  • Raw or rare meat or fish
  • Use your discretion when eating food from street vendors