Perhaps there are only a few other health conditions that are as embarrassing as having the “runs” or diarrhea. Loose bowel movements always spell disaster for people, especially those who aren’t in the comfort of their homes for long periods of time. Diarrhea is especially annoying when you’re on a bus or on the subway and you feel something wet and wild just raring to get out of your system in the most embarrassing way possible.
However, the severe and acute form of diarrhea is one of the common causes of death of children in developing countries. About two million deaths are attributed to it every year. Diarrhea is also one of the major causes of infant deaths worldwide.
Diarrhea is loose stool movement. People with diarrhea normally excrete stool more than three or four times a day, passing more than a quart of waste products. Diarrhea is mostly caused by a viral infection, bacteria or parasite. Rotavirus infections, for example, hospitalize about 55,000 children in the United States alone. Other diseases such as botulism, cholera or dysentery count diarrhea as a symptom. That is why it is always important to have your condition checked whenever your diarrhea lasts longer than usual; diarrhea that lasts more than three or four days is already cause for concern.
Usually, diarrhea is accompanied by cramps, abdominal pain, nausea or bloating. Depending on the cause of the diarrhea, a person may also have blood in their stool or have a fever. While diarrhea usually goes away on its own after the bacteria or the cause has been flushed out of the body, there are several things you can do to get rid of it or at least ease the discomfort it causes.
Drink lots of fluids and electrolytes. Since you will mostly be excreting lots of fluids, you are at risk of suffering from dehydration. Dehydration is the primary reason why children and infants are in particular danger when they suffer from diarrhea; they are losing too much water and electrolytes, so their body can’t function properly (electrolytes are the minerals and salts that affect muscle activity, water levels and other important body functions). Drinking lots of water frequently balances the loss of fluids.
Since water doesn’t have electrolytes, getting them from somewhere else is the next option. Electrolyte levels can be increased by consuming broths and soups that have sodium, and fruits and vegetables that contain potassium. Children can also benefit from over-the-counter rehydration products like Ceralyte and Infalyte.
For adults, drinking Gatorade will help replenish lost electrolytes as well as fluids.
Cut out certain foods from your diet. There are certain foods that actually exacerbate your diarrhea problem. If you have diarrhea, it is recommended that you stay away from the following:
* milk and other daily products such as cheese or ice cream
* greasy foods or foods that have a high fat content, like fried foods
* high-fiber foods like whole wheat, black beans, and peas
* sweet foods like cakes and cookies
* spicy foods
Dairy products and milk are very hard for you to digest when you have diarrhea. The same goes for food that is high in fats. Fiber, while normally helpful to the human body, is not helpful when you’re suffering from diarrhea. Fiber helps in the movement of bowels, keeping food moving through the intestines (which is why fiber is recommended when you are suffering from constipation-the exact opposite of diarrhea). When you’re suffering from a condition that has your bowel movements on overdrive, fiber is only exacerbating the excretion of bowels, including fluids and electrolytes. Spicy foods, meanwhile, will only irritate your intestinal walls, something that you do not want happening while you have diarrhea.
Eat yogurt and bananas. Studies have shown that probiotic agents found in yogurt are effective in cases of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. When you have diarrhea, together with the fluids and electrolytes you lose, you also lose some of the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Yogurt that contains active cultures replenishes the good bacteria. However, take note that you can’t just grab any cheap yogurt you can find on the market. The yogurt you need is one that contains active cultures like Lactobacillus acidophilus or Streptococcus thermophilus. If you can’t find any yogurt that contains active cultures, you can ask your physician if he or she can prescribe any probiotic agents instead.
Bananas normalize the colonic function of the large intestine in absorbing a large amount of water to help ensure proper bowel movement. They also have the useful ability to change the harmful bacteria in the intestine to the more helpful acidophilus bacilli.
Start with low-fiber foods and semi-solids. Once your diarrhea starts to ease up, start eating low-fiber foods and foods that can easily be digested. Chicken noodles, crackers and rice will help you feel better after your bout with diarrhea. Do not start eating dairy products and greasy, high-fat foods until after you’re fully recovered.
You may take medicines that help control diarrhea, such as Imodium or Pepto Bismol. However, if your diarrhea is diagnosed as bacterial, it is almost always better to just let it run its course. Remember that diarrhea itself is not a disease; it is the body’s way of flushing out whatever toxins or bacteria are in your digestive system. Taking medication may just prevent the body from doing its natural function. In such cases, it is always good to consult your physician first.
If your diarrhea lasts for more than three days, seek a physician’s opinion. Something may be wrong. Diarrhea shouldn’t last that long, no matter what infection caused it in the first place. In cases like these, diarrhea can be a symptom of something more serious, like appendicitis or any other intestinal or digestive issues.