24. Put a Stop to Diarrhea

Diarrhea is roughly the opposite of constipation – frequent, loose bowel movements. Almost everyone experiences diarrhea once in a while, but it’s rarely serious and doesn’t last more than a day or two. Stomach cramps or frequent (and inconvenient) bowel movements can make life miserable, though.

Diarrhea can result from various problems, including:

  1. Infection by parasites, bacteria, or viruses.

  2. Drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. This is a common complaint for persons who travel to foreign countries. A variety of infectious organisms can cause “traveler’s diarrhea.” (See Tips 294 and 295 in chapter 13, The Healthy Traveler.)

  3. Food poisoning.

  4. Allergic reactions in the gastrointestinal tract.

  5. Emotional upset.

  6. Overuse of laxatives.

  7. Certain medications, including some antibiotics (like tetracycline, clindamycin, and ampicillin).

  8. Diverticulitis (inflammation of tiny sacs protruding from the intestines).

  9. A symptom of irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.

To control diarrhea:

  1. Follow a light diet if there are no signs of dehydration (dry mouth, excessive thirst, weakness, etc.).

If signs of dehydration are present:

  1. Stop solid foods. Give clear fluids. Fluids of choice are:

  2. -Sport drinks, such as Gatorade. {Note: For children under 2, give over-the-counter mixtures, such as Pedialyte and Ricelyte.}

  3. -Kool-Aid. This usually has less sugar than juices and soda pop.

  4. Avoid giving these liquids:

  5. -High “simple” sugar drinks like apple juice, grape juice, regular colas, other soft drinks, and gelatin. These can pull water into the gut and make the diarrhea persist.

  6. -Boiled milk.

  7. Adults should have around 2 cups of fluid per hour (if vomiting isn’t persistent). For children under 2, consult their doctor about the amount and type of fluids. For children over age 2, give up to 1 quart of fluid per day.

  8. Don’t give just clear liquids for more than 48 hours.

  9. Start eating light meals within 12 hours. Good food choices are: Starchy foods, like potatoes, cereals (not sugar-sweetened ones), and toast; soups with noodles, rice, and/or vegetables; yogurt; and lean meats.

  10. Avoid fatty and fried foods.

  11. The B.R.A.T. diet: having just bananas (ripe), rice, applesauce, and toast (dry) is no longer the diet of choice for diarrhea. It is okay to eat these foods, though.

Other Tips:

  1. Don’t exercise too hard until the diarrhea is gone.

  2. Adults can try an over-the-counter medication, such as the brands Imodium A-D, Kaopectate, or Pepto-Bismol. (Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication that has salicylates, such as Pepto-Bismol to anyone under 19 years old. This has salicylates, which have been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.) Know that Pepto Bismol can cause stools to be black.

  3. Wash your hands after going to the toilet and before preparing food. Use disposable paper towels to dry your hands.

Chapter 1
  1. Fast Relief for Everyday Health Problems