Diarrhea is an acute condition that leads to frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements. People with diarrhea are less able to absorb nutrients or and the digestive system produces extra fluids. It is unpleasant and can also be dangerous if left untreated. So if you have diarrhea, you will want to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
Diarrhea that lasts a short time is called acute diarrhea. But if diarrhea persists, it can cause severe dehydration and require emergency medical intervention.
In most cases, diarrhea will resolve on its own with minimal to no treatment at all. Sometimes, diarrhea is your body’s way of reacting to an infection or something you ate. It can also be a way of flushing down toxins that entered into your systems. In situations like this, diarrhea may be considered protective.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
The main symptom of diarrhea is dehydration, but it can be difficult to tell if a person suffers from dehydration. Usually, by the time a person shows its first sign of dehydration, they have been dehydrated for a while. If you notice any signs of dehydration, especially in an infant, toddler, and elderly, consult your doctor.
If dehydration is severe, you may need to be given fluids intravenously or inserting IV tube fluid into your vein. The purpose of this is to replace fluids lost through frequent urinating and bowel movements.
Other diarrhea symptoms include:
- loose and frequent stools
- cramping tummy pain
- fever (44C)
- loss of appetite
- feeling tired
- weight loss
Diarrhea causes can be due to a number of things. These include viruses, bacteria, parasites, certain medicines, or pre-existing medical conditions. Foods that are hard to digest, sweets, raw, and meat/fish can also cause indigestion or diarrhea.
First Aid for Diarrhea
Most cases of diarrhea go away on their own within a couple of days without medical treatment. But if you apply lifestyle changes and try home remedies for diarrhea without success, consult your doctor for medications or other treatments.
When diarrhea persists more than a couple of days or is recurring more than usual, it may be a sign of a bigger problem in need of medical care. Here are some first tips that can help when faced with sudden diarrhea:
Drink Plenty of Fluids
The first course of action if you have diarrhea is to drink plenty of extra fluid. Water is always the best remedy to clear out toxins, but any clear liquid will do. For mild cases, milk is recommended, but it can prolong or worsen diarrhea depending on how your body will take it.
Avoid alcohol and any drinks with caffeine. Both types of drinks have a diuretic or water-excreting effects. For moderate to severe cases, you may opt to take an electrolyte solution like Gastrolyte or Pedialyte to replace those who lost to diarrhea. Avoid sports and energy drinks like Gatorade since their high sugar content can only make your diarrhea worse.
Taking antibiotics might help in treating diarrhea caused by bacteria or parasites. However, if a virus is the main cause of your diarrhea, antibiotics would not help. Consult your doctor if an antibiotic is a good medication for your diarrhea. The doctor may lower your dose or may recommend switching to other medications.
Avoid certain foods
Foods to avoid for a few days when experiencing diarrhea include milk and dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods, or highly seasoned foods.
Take anti-diarrhea medications
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for diarrhea, such as loperamide, might help reduce the number of watery bowel movements. It can also help to control severe symptoms.
However, certain medical conditions and infections, such as bacterial and parasitic, can become worse with these medications. These will prevent your body from getting rid of what is causing diarrhea. Diarrhea medication is not always safe for your children. It is best to check with their pediatrician first before giving these medications to a child.
Consume the Right Probiotic
The bacterial cultures found in yogurt, drinks, and probiotic supplements can help ease diarrhea symptoms and can shorten the duration of certain types. It is especially effective for people with antibiotic-associated diarrhea or acute gastroenteritis, commonly known as stomach flu. But take note that not all probiotic cultures are effective in providing relief.
Be sure to select items that contain “live” or “active” cultures when shopping for yogurt and probiotic drinks. Choose those who have plain or low-sugar varieties, since higher sugar levels may only contribute to diarrhea symptoms.
Treating underlying conditions
Pre-existing conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease can worsen your diarrhea. If you think it is caused by a more serious condition, see your doctor and they will help to control that condition. You can also consult a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist, who can help devise a treatment plan for you.
When to See a Doctor
Staying hydrated, avoiding certain foods, and taking the right probiotics can help resolve the mild effects of diarrhea. But persistent or severe cases may require further medical instance. Here are some instances where you need to seek urgent or emergency care:
- Diarrhea or vomiting in newborns under three months
- Loose bowel movements in children for more than 12 hours
- Diarrhea that lasts more than three days in adults or children
- Bloody, black, and oily looking stools
- Abdominal pain that does not improve with a bowel movement
- Dehydration symptoms, including dry mouth, headache, dizziness, feeling of weakness, and low urine output
- High fever of over 100.4 F
Diarrhea may cause trouble for some or a sign of a serious problem in others. For this reason, you should never ignore diarrhea symptoms if they are severe, persistent, recurrent, or accompanied by other abnormal symptoms.
If you decide to take an over-the-counter anti-diarrhea, limit yourself to doctor-recommended medications. Although some can be very effective, it is important to get approval from your doctor before taking it. Taking it without your doctor’s approval may worsen some forms of inflammation or can cause bloody diarrhea.