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Diarrhea Relief: Causes and Treatment Options

Whether it’s a stomach bug, food allergy, or general digestive issues, diarrhea is the dumps. Diarrhea is a common medical condition with many causes that affect people of all ages. Depending on its severity, there are many treatment options available, from home remedies, diet plans, and over the counter medications. 

The best way to find proper treatment for diarrhea is to learn more about the condition and determine its cause. Keep reading to find out more about how to prevent and treat diarrhea.

What is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is defined as having loose or liquid stool three or more times a day. Diarrhea is medically classified into three different types: acute, persistent, and chronic. Acute diarrhea is the most common and lasts the shortest amount of time.

What Are the Symptoms of Diarrhea?

Depending on the cause, diarrhea may be accompanied by a series of other symptoms. The following are the most common: 

  • A strong urge to go to the bathroom followed by liquid or very watery stools
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • General malaise
  • Uncontrollable bowel movements
  • Bloody stools (usually a warning sign)
  • Fever
  • Unsteadiness or dizziness

Keep in mind: Diarrhea requires medical attention when it lasts more than two days, is accompanied by fever, severe stomach pain, blood in the stool, vomiting, or occurs six or more times in 24 hours.

Why Does Diarrhea Occur?

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Diarrhea can occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from the most simple and insignificant to the most complicated and concerning. The causes of diarrhea are listed below.

Viral infections

Also known as viral gastroenteritis, this is characterized by an intestinal infection caused by viruses. It’s spread through contact with infected people or contaminated food or water.

Diarrhea can be caused by many types of viruses. The most common are rotavirus (more common in children) and norovirus (common in children and adults). The symptoms most commonly associated with this infection are:

  • Acute type diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mild fever

Keep in mind: This infection is a risk factor for immunocompromised people, like older adults, young children, or people with AIDS or who are HIV positive. 

Bacterial infections

Bacterial gastroenteritis is caused by a bacterial intestinal infection. It’s often caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. 

Like viruses, many different bacteria can cause digestive tract infections. Some of the most common are: Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus, Campylobacter Jejuni, and Yersinia. The following are the most common symptoms:

  • Diarrhea, possibly with blood
  • Decreased or total loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 

Parasitic infections

Intestinal parasitosis refers to a parasitic infection that can cause diarrhea and other symptoms. Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica, and Cryptosporidium are some parasites that can cause it. These infections may trigger the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Acute, persistent, or chronic diarrhea
  • Stools with mucus
  • Bloody stool (occasionally)
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • General malaise
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite


Food allergies and intolerance

Food intolerance is typically caused by a lack of enzymes responsible for metabolizing (converting or using as energy) a particular food. An example of this is lactose intolerance. Food allergies, on the other hand, are the immune system's reaction to a specific ingested food, which can result in anaphylaxis, a serious condition.

Although these are different conditions, they usually have symptoms in common—in this case diarrhea. Food intolerance is a common cause of diarrhea, as seen when lactose intolerant people consume dairy. Rather than diarrhea, food allergies may cause symptoms such as hives or itching, swelling of various parts of the body, nasal congestion, and other symptoms.

Food poisoning

This condition encompasses all those infections caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxic agents acquired through contaminated food.

These symptoms usually go away on their own without medication or any other treatment. In the most severe cases, the person may require hospitalization.The most common symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Diarrhea, with or without blood
  • Vomiting 
  • Nausea 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever

Some gastrointestinal diseases may cause diarrhea. Some of the most common are:

  • Celiac disease: the inability to consume gluten
  • Crohn's disease: causes inflammation in the digestive tract, mainly in the small and the first part of the large intestine 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): affects the digestive system and causes cramping, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea
  • Ulcerative colitis: affects the membrane lining the colon and rectum, causing inflammation and ulceration
  • Microscopic colitis: large intestine inflammation with persistent diarrhea
  • Malabsorption syndrome: the small intestine’s inability to absorb nutrients from food, which may be caused by celiac disease, lactose intolerance, or other conditions

Keep in mind: Diarrhea that occurs due to these conditions can vary from persistent to chronic.

Taking certain medications

Many medications list diarrhea as one of their side effects. Some medications are specifically designed to induce it, such as laxatives. However, the following may cause more frequent diarrhea as a side effect:

  • Antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Immune system inhibitor drugs
  • Antacids with high magnesium content
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Diabetes medications
  • Medications to treat ulcers and heartburn

What should I eat if I have diarrhea?

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Depending on the type of diarrhea you have and its cause, you may have to limit the types of foods you eat. We recommend consulting a health professional to determine an appropriate diet. 

Here are some foods specifically recommended to help alleviate diarrhea:

  • Foods with pectin like yogurts, applesauce, and bananas, which may help reduce diarrhea
  • Fruits and vegetables like asparagus, carrots, celery, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, and zucchini, always cooked and peeled or in soup/puree form
  • Foods rich in potassium like bananas, peeled potatoes, and some fruit juices and drinks
  • Certain dairy products like yogurts and skimmed cheeses, though other products containing lactose aren’t recommended
  • Natural or unflavored gelatins
  • Grains like rice, refined white bread, and pasta
  • Protein-rich foods such thoroughly cooked as fish, red meat, chicken, turkey, and eggs
  • Plenty of fluids, especially water, herbal teas, and alkaline lemonade

Keep in mind: Use low-fat cooking techniques like boiling, steaming, and grilling to cook your food during this time. It’s also recommended you eat unseasoned food in small portions. Do your best to stay hydrated, since dehydration is the most serious side effect of diarrhea.

Foods to avoid

It’s also important to identify foods to avoid with diarrhea, since certain things might make the condition worse:

  • Any food with lactose or a high fat content, such as whole milk, fatty cheeses, buttermilk, and more
  • All types of sausages or processed meats
  • Cruciferous vegetables or raw, unpeeled veggies, and nuts
  • Fast food
  • Pastries or sugary foods
  • Carbonated beverages such as soft drinks
  • Whole-grain pastas 
  • High-fat and high-fiber meats such as duck, lamb, and oily fish
  • Alcoholic and/or caffeinated beverages

Keep in mind: Avoid frying, stewing, and braising foods when you have diarrhea. Stay away from spicy food, and keep your portions small.

Home Remedies For Diarrhea

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Diarrhea can be treated at home. That said, it’s always best to consult a doctor to determine the cause and type of diarrhea.

If your diarrhea lasts less than 24 hours, doesn’t contain blood or mucus, with no fever or vomiting, and your stomach pains aren’t severe, you can try some of the home remedies for diarrhea listed below:

Saline fluid

You can buy saline at the pharmacy, but you can also prepare it at home easily by mixing:

  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 cup of lemon juice

Mix everything and refrigerate for 24 hours. Then drink one cup (240 ml) after each bowel movement. 

BRAT Diet 

Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast make up this diet. This low-fiber group of foods contain starch, pectin, potassium, and an easily digestible texture.

Keep in mind: Since the BRAT diet isn’t nutritionally balanced, we recommend following it for up to two days maximum. Many health professionals currently oppose this diet due to its low nutrient density. Consult with your doctor before trying it out.

Probiotics 

Probiotics can help during and after episodes of diarrhea since they restore intestinal flora and allow the digestive system to return to normal. They occur naturally in foods like yogurt and can also be purchased over-the-counter in pharmacies. We recommend you read more about the health benefits of probiotics in this article

Rice water 

Boil four cups of water with a small portion of rice for 30 minutes. Strain it, let it cool, and refrigerate for 24 hours before drinking.

Keep in mind: You can find dozens of home remedies online, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll work. Avoid self-medication since it could make the condition worse.

7 Tips to Follow If You Have Diarrhea

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If you have diarrhea, it’s important to maintain adequate nutrient intake, stay hydrated, and avoid spreading potential infections to others. Here are seven things to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure to wash your hands properly to avoid spreading any infections
  2. Stay hydrated, drinking plenty of liquids after each bowel movement to prevent dehydration
  3. Keep track of the number of times you use the bathroom
  4. Follow the dietary recommendations we’ve provided, remember that adjusting your diet is important during recovery
  5. Get proper rest 
  6. See your doctor if you have more than six bowel movements in less than 24 hours or if you have had diarrhea, severe pain, fever, or blood in your stool for more than two days
  7. Avoid beverages that are very cold, hot, or acidic 

Diarrhea In Children

Viruses are the most common cause of diarrhea in children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children under four typically experience diarrhea at least once or twice a year.

Since diarrhea is usually short-lived and the symptoms aren’t severe, children with mild diarrhea usually don’t require fluid replacement or dietary changes. If your child has diarrhea and vomiting, take them to the doctor for appropriate treatment.

Keep in mind: The most important thing is to keep your child hydrated at all times. Take them to a doctor if the symptoms are severe. The BRAT diet is not recommended for children because pediatricians believe the diet lacks enough nutrition to help a child's gastrointestinal tract recover.

Avoid thome remedies or medications that aren’t indicated or prescribed by a pediatrician since this can be hazardous to their health. Children are more sensitive, so always consult your pediatrician first.

This video from Dr. William Guggino at Johns Hopkins University talks more about this condition in children.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which medication stops diarrhea?

There isn’t a way to stop diarrhea immediately. To stop diarrhea as quickly as possible, however, you need to determine the cause, treat it appropriately, and follow a proper diet. You can also use certain over-the-counter medications like loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate to alleviate symptoms. These aren’t recommended if you have a fever or bloody stool.

When is diarrhea dangerous?

Diarrhea becomes dangerous when someone gets dehydrated. Dehydration can be fatal, especially in young children, people who are immunocompromised, and the elderly. Warning signs may include:

  • Weight loss as a result of diarrhea
  • Fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • Heavy liquid bowel movements more than six times a day
  • Dizziness
  • Chronic diarrhea  
  • Severe and long-lasting abdominal pain
  • Blood or pus in the stool
  • Inability to control bowel movements
  • Diarrhea lasting more than two days
  • Signs of dehydration in adults: dry skin or mouth; fatigue; weakness; absent or decreased, dark-colored urine; excessive thirst
  • Signs of dehydration in children: dry tongue and mouth, irritability, drowsiness, sunken eyes or cheeks, crying without tears, and fever of 102°F or higher

How long can diarrhea last?

Chronic diarrhea is the longest lasting diarrhea and can last up to four weeks. Persistent diarrhea can last from two to four weeks. Acute diarrhea, which is the most common, lasts from one to two days and goes away on its own.

Take Care Of Your Tummy! 

The best thing to do for diarrhea is to identify the cause, follow a proper diet, and establish an effective treatment to restore balance to your digestive system.

It’s important to monitor diarrhea from the start. This will allow you to determine when it’s time to see a specialist and prevent further complications. 

Remember that SABEResPODER!