We all experience diarrhea at some point or the other in life. It is usually acute diarrhea that arises with viral gastroenteritis or with food poisoning. Most of the time the diarrhea and other symptoms, like nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps, pass within 2 to 3 days even without any medical treatment. However, sometimes the diarrhea can persist for weeks and there are other causes of chronic diarrhea.
Identifying and understanding the cause of the diarrhea is important to ensure that treatment is effective. In acute cases of viral gastroenteritis the focus is on preventing complication like dehydration while waiting for the diarrhea to ease on its own. At other times treatment has to focus on the root cause of the diarrhea or it can be unrelenting.
Read more on recurrent diarrhea.
Ways to Stop Diarrhea
There are several ways to stop diarrhea that is persistent or recurrent. Medical attention is always necessary in prolonged diarrhea, particularly in chronic cases. Diarrhea is just a symptom and the underlying cause can be serious and even deadly at times. A medical professional will be able to properly assess, treat and manage diarrhea where necessary.
Most of us do not see diarrhea as a very serious condition since we are accustomed to it resolving on its own within a few days. Nevertheless simple dietary and lifestyle measures should be implemented to help the body recover from the diarrhea even if medical treatment has been commenced.
Eat A Bland Diet
It is important to keep it simple when it comes to dietary choices while diarrhea is present. Avoid spicy foods altogether as it can act as an irritant and further worsen diarrhea. Contrary to popular belief, solid foods should not be avoided when diarrhea occurs provided that there is no vomiting. However, it is important to manage a bland and well balanced diet.
Start the Probiotics
The normal bowel bacteria may be disturbed by the underlying cause of the diarrhea or severe and prolonged diarrhea itself. Without these bacteria, normal bowel function is affected and this can then lead to further diarrhea. These ‘good’ bacteria needs to be replenished as soon as possible. Probiotic supplements are the better choice.
Rehydrate with ORS
Water and other beverages like soda can actually worsen diarrhea and hasten dehydration. The concentration of solutes in these fluids may draw out water from the body into the bowel. Therefore it is important to rehydrate only with oral rehydrating solutions (ORS). These solutions are available commercially and will restore both fluid and electrolytes in the proper concentrations.
Stay Away from Dairy
Although dairy products such as live culture yogurt may contain the ‘good’ bacteria that is needed, diary should be avoided until the diarrhea eases. Sometimes diarrheal conditions can cause secondary lactose intolerance. The bowels become sensitive to dairy even though a person is not usually lactose intolerant. However, this passes within a short period and dairy can then be resumed.
Identify Other Problem Foods
Sometimes diarrhea may be caused or exacerbated by problem foods. These foods may not be common in diarrhea and individual to certain people and situations. Identifying these problem foods and removing it from the diet is important to remedy the diarrhea. An elimination diet and food diary may be helpful in isolating these foods.
Switch to the BRAT Diet
The BRAT diet is one way of ensuring continuous nutrition while avoiding the food irritants that can worsen diarrhea. It is a short term option. It involves the following four foods which are usually well tolerated even when diarrhea is present. These foods include bananas, rice, applesauce and toast (without any butter or other spreads).
Increase Fiber Intake
High fiber foods can help the bowels form soft solid stool. If food is well tolerated, high fiber fruits, vegetables and grains should be included in the diet. However, excessive amounts of fiber can be a problem. Also ensure that high fiber foods are well chewed as it can be difficult to digest in the already irritated gastrointestinal tract.
Try An Antidiarrheal
There are several drugs that can halt diarrhea, at least temporarily. These antidiarrheal drugs such as loperamide should not be the first option for diarrhea treatment. It can complicate diarrhea if used too early and for too long. However, antidiarrheals may sometimes be helpful in allowing the bowels to form solid stool and letting the diarrhea resolve.
Use Antibiotics As Prescribed
Antibiotics can be necessary for bacterial infections that may be causing diarrhea. If it is prescribed by a medical professional then it should be used as directed. However, antibiotics can also cause diarrhea at times or worsen pre-existing diarrhea when it destroys the ‘good’ bowel bacteria. It may therefore be advisable to use it with probiotics.
Get Sufficient Bed Rest
As far as possible it is important to get sufficient bed rest. It will allow the body time to recover from the underlying cause of the diarrhea. Physical activity can further worsen diarrhea due to movement and the effect of gravity. Strict bed rest is only necessary in the early stages of the disease and once symptoms start easing a person can get back on their feet.
There are times when dietary and lifestyle measures should not be considered to stop the diarrhea. Instead medical supervision is necessary before deadly complications arise. It is important to be able to identify the warning signs of severe and possibly life-threatening diarrhea.
- Blood diarrhea or black diarrhea is one of the most serious warning signs and maybe seen with infections like cholera.
- Bloody vomiting or a coffee ground appearance to the vomit is another warning sign even when the diarrhea is mild.
- A very high fever should always be treated as a medical emergency especially if there are seizures or delirium.
- Severe dehydration signs and symptoms means that immediate medical attention is required as hospitalization may be crucial.
- Mental symptoms such as confusion or even a loss of confusion should be an indication that the diarrheal illness cannot be managed with professional medical assistance.