Diarrhea is a symptom and can describe a number of alterations in bowel movement where the stool is frequent, excessive and often not well formed. We all experience diarrhea several times in our lives, and often a few times in a year even if we do not have any underlying diseases. Diarrhea is usually short-lived, resolves on its own and does not cause any further complications. But some episodes of diarrhea can be worse than others. Most of us find watery diarrhea to be the worst and it can be more dangerous since the body is losing copious amounts of fluid in the stool. In some types of watery diarrhea, you can lose several liters of water within just a few hours which can be life-threatening.
Watery diarrhea is where the stool is more fluid than solid. Normally the fluid intestinal contents gradually become firm as it passes through the colon. Eventually the soft but firm stool is formed which is expelled during defecation. But in watery diarrhea this does not happen for one or more of the following reasons:
- The stool may pass through the colon too quickly to become solidified.
- The colon may not reabsorb the water it normally would even if the stool is passing through slowly.
- There is excessive water being passed out from the body into the bowels.
Whether your diarrhea is watery or not, the same ways to stop diarrhea should be utilized in all instances unless your doctor advises you otherwise. Do not immediately use an antidiarrheal drugs like loperamide unless your doctor prescribes it. These drugs can prevent your body from expelling the harmful microbes and toxins that may be causing the diarrhea. Also monitor your watery stool carefully. If it is very severe or there are any signs of blood then you need to seek immediate medical attention.
Do Not Drink Water Alone
Water on its own can aggravate watery diarrhea in some instances. It may not be absorbed into the body due to the lack of electrolytes. While fluid replenishment is essential in diarrhea, especially when the stool is very watery, drinking water alone may not be your best option. An oral rehydrating solution (ORS) should be the fluid of choice. It can be made at home with clean water, sugar and salt but ideally you should opt for a commercial ORS which is available in most supermarkets and pharmacies.
Commercial ORS is usually in the form of a sachet containing granules that can be diluted in water. An ORS has the correct concentration of electrolytes which helps water to be absorbed into the body rather than remaining in the bowels where it exacerbates the watery diarrhea. Furthermore the electrolytes help with reducing dehydration. The ORS should be used exactly as directed. Mix well to ensure that the granules adequately dissolve in the water.
Be Careful With Sodas And Fruit Juice
Mos people opt to go on a liquid diet when they are suffering with watery diarrhea. Sodas and fruit juice are often the fluids of choice as it contains nutrients, particularly carbohydrates to provide some nourishment until the diarrhea subsides. However, sodas and fruit juices may end up prolonging your diarrhea and even worsening dehydration. Once again, oral rehydrating solutions are the best option for replenishing lost fluids and a simple bland diet will provide the nutrients needed.
The electrolyte concentration in sodas is not ideal and may instead draw out water from the body into the bowel lumen. Some sodas also contain caffeine which acts as a diuretic. It leads to water loss through the urine at a time when as much water as possible is trying to be retained within the body. Fruit juice is not always a problem but the sorbitol within it can also draw out water from the body. Diluted fruit juice (1 part juice to 5 parts water) may be better tolerated by the body. It should be avoided in very young children in particular.
Avoid Chewing Gum And Candy
It is a familiar scenario for most of us – you have diarrhea and you do not have an appetite for solid foods. The fluids are not filling you up, you feel weak and you need some sugar. Chewing gum or candy may seem like an option. But you could end up worsening your diarrhea. The problem is that chewing gum and candy contains additives that could draw out water from your body in the same way as sodas and fruit juices. A small amount of candy or chewing gum may not be a problem. Apart from worsening diarrhea, it is also important to realize that chewing gum and candy are not suitable forms of nutrition.
Continue Eating Solid Foods
Contrary to popular belief, you should not switch over to a liquid diet when you have diarrhea. Provided that you are not vomiting, you should continue eating solid foods. It is best to keep your meals simple and opt for bland foods. You will need a balanced diet containing starches, protein, fruits and vegetables as well as small amounts of fats. It is perfectly fine to consume moderate amounts of salt with the food but hold back on the spices as far as possible.
Remember that your body is in a weakened state when you have diarrhea, beyond just the effects of dehydration. Infections are the most common cause of acute diarrhea. Good nutrition is essential in maintaining your strength and keeping the immune system working effectively. This will allow you to overcome the diarrhea sooner without complications. But do not eat anything and everything you normally would. Certain foods can worsen diarrhea and should be avoided if you notice that it is a problem.
Use A Probiotic Supplement
A good probiotic supplement should be among the first products that you start when you have diarrhea. It helps to restore the normal intestinal flora (“good bowel bacteria”) which may be destroyed or disturbed in diarrheal illnesses. Sometimes it is the antibiotics used to treat the diarrhea that can destroy the normal intestinal flora and worsen diarrhea. This is known as antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). The importance of probiotics in treating and managing diarrhea cannot be overstated.
However, not all probiotic supplements are useful. Some products on the market do not contain the necessary microbial spores to restore the intestinal flora. You should always speak to your doctor and pharmacist about a suitable probiotic. Another source of these good bowel bacteria is live culture yogurt. However, the problem with yogurt is that some people develop secondary lactose intolerance during diarrheal illnesses. Dairy will therefore exacerbate the diarrhea. A probiotic supplement is often the better choice.