What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea means frequent loose bowel movements. If it starts all of a sudden and doesn’t last a long time, it’s called acute diarrhea. Usually it lasts just a day or two.
Diarrhea that doesn’t go away after a few days or keeps coming back is called chronic diarrhea.
It may be a sign of other medical problems.
Diarrhea takes water from your body. It can cause you to lose too much water–a problem called dehydration. This can be a very serious problem, especially for the very young and the very old.
How does it occur?
Nearly everyone gets acute diarrhea at one time or another. It can happen when you eat or drink something that has germs in it or when you have stomach flu. It may be caused by:
· infection with bacteria, viruses, or parasites, such as food poisoning or stomach flu
· contaminated water, for example, when you are camping
· medicine, especially antibiotics
· sensitivity to certain kinds of foods, such as foods high in fats, sugar, fiber, or lactose (the sugar in milk products)
· food allergies
What are the symptoms?
You have many loose, watery, or unformed stools. You may also have, pain or cramping in your belly, fever, or nausea.
How is it diagnosed?
Your primary healthcare provider will review your symptoms and examine you. Your primary healthcare provider will make sure that you are not getting dehydrated and that you do not have any other medical condition.
A sample of your blood or urine may be tested. You may need to give 1 or more samples of bowel movement (stool samples) for lab tests.
How is it treated?
You need to replace the fluids and body chemicals that are lost when you have diarrhea. Your primary healthcare provider will probably advise you to drink plenty of clear fluids. Sports drinks or other oral rehydration solutions (ORS) can help you replace lost salts as well as fluid. You canalso make a rehydration solution with packets from the drugstore.
Drinking other nonalcoholic drinks made with clean water will also help prevent dehydration, but you may not get all the salts you need.
Your primary healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic if your diarrhea is caused by bacteria.
If you are already taking an antibiotic for another illness and it seems to be causing the diarrhea, your primary healthcare provider may ask you to stop taking that antibiotic.
How long will the effects last?
The symptoms of acute diarrhea usually last less than 3 days. Sometimes the diarrhea is gone after just a few hours, but it may last as long as 2 weeks.
How can I take care of myself?
If your temperature is over 100°F (38°C), rest as much as you can. After your temperature falls below 100° F (38°C), moderate activity is OK. Take acetaminophen to control your fever. Keep a daily record of your temperature.
For cramps and abdominal pain, it may help to put a covered hot water bottle or electric heating pad (set on low) on your belly. Never set a heating pad on high because you could get burned.
It is OK to keep eating as long as it does not seem to worsen the diarrhea or stomach cramps. Foods that are easiest to digest are soft starchy foods, such as bananas, cooked cereal, plain rice or noodles, gelatin, eggs, toast or bread (but without butter or margarine), crackers, cooked carrots, and applesauce. Avoid milk products and caffeine for a few days.
If you would like to let your bowel rest for a few hours, don’t eat anything and drink only clear liquids such as water, weak tea, broth, apple or grape juice, or sports drinks or other oral rehydration drinks. You may also drink soft drinks without caffeine (such as 7 UP) after letting them lose some of their carbonation (go flat). Make sure you drink often so you do not get dehydrated. Getting dehydrated can be very dangerous, especially for children, older adults, and some people who have other medical problems. Suck on ice chips or Popsicles if you feel too nauseated to drink fluids.
You can go back to your normal diet after 2 or 3 days, but for several days avoid raw fruit (other than bananas), alcohol, greasy or fatty foods such as cheeseburgers, pizza, or bacon, highly seasoned or spicy foods, and most raw vegetables. Cooked carrots, potatoes, and squash are fine. If eating seems to make the diarrhea worse, let your bowel rest for a few hours by drinking just clear liquids.
Be cautious about taking antidiarrheal medicines. Nonprescription medicines such as lopeamide (sold as Imodium and other trade names) or the prescription medicine Lomotil can make you sicker, especially if the diarrhea is bloody. If you take one of these medicines, make sure you use only the dose recommended on the package. Do not use these medicines every day to control diarrhea. They can keep the germs causing the diarrhea in the intestine. Do not give antidiarrheal medicine to small children. If you have chronic health problems, always check with your primary healthcare provider before you use any medicine for diarrhea.
See your primary healthcare provider if:
· The diarrhea lasts longer than 3 days.
· You have cramps or abdominal pain that lasts more than a few days, gets very bad, or affects only 1 area of your belly.
· You have signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, excessive thirst, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
· You have blood or mucus in your bowel movements.
· You have a fever of 38.6° C (101.5° F) or higher.
· You have other symptoms that worry you.
What can I do to help prevent acute diarrhea?
To prevent passing your infection to others:
· Avoid unnecessary contact until your symptoms are gone.
· Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 15 seconds after you use the restroom.
· Do not prepare food for other people. If you must prepare or serve food, wash your hands thoroughly before you cook or serve food, and wear disposable plastic server gloves when you prepare or severe the food.
· Do not work as a food handler or server in restaurants, dining halls, or grocery stores until your diarrhea is completely gone.
Some things you can do to help prevent getting diarrhea are:
· Always wash your hands with soap and warm water after you use the restroom and before you eat.
· Make sure that the fruit juices and dairy products you eat and drink have been pasteurized.
· Serve food right after it has been cooked or reheated. Refrigerate food promptly after meals.