Diarrhea is one the most common acute problems that every person experiences now and then. It is difficult to avoid diarrhea entirely because it can be due to a variety of causes. However, several simple dietary and lifestyle changes can ensure that complications of diarrhea are minimized. It also ensures that the diarrhea is not too severe and does not persist for too long.
Most of the time diarrhea is acute and will resolve on its own within a few days. Depending on the cause, no medical treatment may be necessary. However, there are a wide range of causes of diarrhea. Some will only resolve with medical treatment. At other times diarrhea may be chronic where it arises as frequent episodes over months and even years.
Read more on watery stool.
What to Do for Diarrhea?
Some of the measures advised when diarrhea occurs may not always be suitable and sufficient for all causes of diarrhea. It is best to have the cause of the diarrhea investigated by a medical doctor because medical treatment may be necessary. Even if the diarrhea is not profuse or severe, a few simply changes can help to avoid future episodes and prevent dehydration.
This is probably the single most important measure that is necessary during diarrhea. Rehydration ensures that fluid and electrolytes which are lost in the watery stool are adequately replaced. Water alone is not sufficient.
Electrolytes are also needed and oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are the best option. It is available commercially and can be made with clean water, sugar and a small amount of salt. Sods and fruit juices may not be sufficient and can even worsen dehydration and diarrhea.
Diarrhea can cause signficant strain on the body due to the loss of fluid and electrolytes, disturbances in sleep as well as the loss of appetite that usually accompanies it. Resting as much as possible and bed rest is preferable.
However, if strict bed rest is not possible then at least minimize strenuous physical activity. Outdoor activities in hot weather should be avoided altogether as the heat hastens dehydration through perspiration.
Do Eat Solid Foods
There is a common misconception that solid foods should be avoided during diarrhea. This is untrue. A fluid diet for a short period of time should only be considered when there s vomiting. This makes it difficult to eat solid food and meals may trigger further vomiting.
However, with diarrhea there is no need to avoid solid foods. Apart from rehydrating, balanced meals are necessary to help with recovery and prevent nutritional deficiencies. The BRAT diet is ideal to transition between a fluid diet to a solid diet once vomiting ends.
Read more on BRAT diet.
Do Practice Good Hygiene
Infectious diarrhea can spread easily among close contacts. Furthemore a person with diarrhea may also be at risk of secondary infections which can worsen diarrhea. It is therefore important that any person with diarrhea as well as close contacts practice good hygiene at all time.
Was hands thoroughly with an antiseptic soap, especially after using the toilet and before eating. Carefully disposed of soiled diapers when infants have diarrhea. Do not consume unclean water or cook with it. Ensure good hygiene is practiced at all times when preparing food.
Do Seek Medical Advice
Although we are all accustomed to managing diarrhea on our own, medical advice is necessary especially when diarrhea is severe or prolonged, bloody or complications like dehydration arise. Not all causes of diarrhea will resolve within a few days and diarrhea is not always due to a 3 day stomach “flu”. A medical professional can assess the illness that is causing diarrhea, conduct the appropriate tests and prescribe the most effective treatment as well as prevent complications.
What Not to Do with Diarrhea?
These are some of the factors that should be avoided when diarrhea is present. Not only can it worsen diarrhea and delay it from resolving, sometimes it can even worsen the complications of diarrhea such as dehydration. This can be serious and even life-threatening. Always speak to a doctor to determine what should and should not be done.
Do Not Have Dairy or Too Much Fiber
While good nutrition is important during diarrhea, some foods that are usually touted as healthy and beneficial can be a problem in diarrheal illnesses. Dairy for example should be avoided as far as possible until the diarrhea resolves while fiber should not be consumed in excess.
Although a person may not be lactose intolerant, dairy may increase bowel irritation. It can worsen and prolong diarrhea. Similarly fiber may not always be beneficial during diarrheal illnesses although it is good for bowel health when bowel activity is normal.
Read more on signs of lactose intolerance.
Do Not Drink Caffeinated or Alcoholic Beverages
Both caffeine and alcohol can hasten dehydration due to its diuretic effect. This can be dangerous when there is diarrhea. Furthermore caffeine and alcohol can irritate the already inflamed bowel wall. Caffeine is also a stimulant and may increase bowel activity thereby worsening the diarrhea as well as aggravating associated symptoms like abdominal pain.
Do Not Ignore the Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration is the main complication of diarrhea and also the leading cause of death in diarrheal illnesses. Ideally dehydration should be prevented with proper oral rehydration. However, this may not always be possible when vomiting or sufficient to prevent or reverse dehydration.
It is important to monitor the signs of dehydration and seek medical advice. Dry mouth, dry skin, loss of skin tone and a host of other symptoms occurs with dehydration. Emergency medical attention may sometimes be necessary. An IV drip can help replenish fluids and electrolytes if oral rehydration is not possible or effective.
Do Not Try to Immediately Stop Diarrhea with Drugs
Antidiarrheal drugs like loperamide should be avoided as far as possible unless otherwise advise by a medical professional. These drugs are effecting in stopping bowel m
ovements. However, this also means that offending agents that may be causing diarrhea cannot be flushed out of the bowels. It can therefore worsen diarrhea, prolong and possibly increase the risk of diarrheal complications.
Read on drugs to stop diarrhea.