We’ve all experienced bouts of diarrhea at some point in our lives. Common symptoms of diarrhea include frequent, watery stools, abdominal cramping, and bloating.
Diarrhea is often your body’s way of dealing with disruptions in your gastrointestinal system. Acute diarrhea lasts less than 2 weeks and can come from many sources, such as:
- a viral infection
- a bacterial infection
- food poisoning
- recent antibiotic use
- water contaminated with an infectious agent
Infectious diarrhea is common in young children and is often caused by a virus. Traveler’s diarrhea can occur if you travel to underdeveloped areas with contaminated water. Bacteria from improperly stored or cooked food are typical causes of food poisoning.
Read on for some of the most effective ways to manage acute diarrhea.
Hydration is very important when you have diarrhea. Dehydration from diarrhea can be fatal in young children and older adults. Continue breastfeeding or formula feeding infants who are experiencing diarrhea. Over-the-counter oral pediatric hydration solutions, like Pedialyte, are the recommended fluids of choice for children with diarrhea. Small amounts of hydration solutions should be given frequently. These formulas also come in popsicle preparations.
Studies have shown that for adults with mild symptoms of diarrhea, sports drinks and over-the-counter rehydration solutions are equally effective.
Alcohol, milk, soda, and other carbonated or caffeinated drinks should not be used for hydration, as they may make your symptoms worse.
Probiotics are sources of “good” bacteria that work in your intestinal tract to create a healthy gut environment. They’re essentially live microorganisms that exist in certain foods, including:
- aged soft cheeses
- beet kvass
- cottage cheese
- dark chocolate
- green olives
- sourdough bread
Probiotics also come in powder or pill form.
The good bacteria that live in your intestinal tract are necessary for the normal functioning of your gastrointestinal system. They play an important role in protecting your intestines against infection. When your system is changed by antibiotics or overwhelmed by unhealthy bacteria or viruses, you can get diarrhea. Probiotics can help with diarrhea by restoring the balance of bacteria in your gut.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast probiotic. While it’s not a bacterium, it acts like one. S. boulardii may improve antibiotic-associated diarrhea. It also seems to provide relief for traveler’s diarrhea. Studies suggest it may help your intestines fight off unwanted pathogens and ensure they’re absorbing nutrients properly. Because it is yeast, it should be used with caution in people with inadequate immune systems.
It’s important to receive proper medical care in cases of acute diarrhea. Talk with your health care provider before taking probiotic supplements to treat your diarrhea.
With your doctor’s supervision, several over-the-counter medications can help with acute diarrhea if your symptoms are not severe. Common over-the-counter medications include:
While these drugs can relieve the symptoms of diarrhea, they don’t treat the underlying cause.
If you have chronic diarrhea, you shouldn’t use these drugs without your doctor’s consent. Chronic diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts more than 14 days. It often has different causes.
You should be especially cautious if your child has diarrhea. Dehydration resulting from diarrhea can be dangerous and can occur quickly in young children. Severe dehydration can be life-threatening. Over-the-counter medications are not recommended for treatment in children, so it’s important to talk to your doctor. Infants under 3 months old who have diarrhea should be taken to the doctor right away.
If you have bloody diarrhea, a fever, more than seven days of symptoms, intense abdominal pain, or diarrhea that is getting worse, you should seek medical attention.
Foods to eat
While it might sound counterintuitive to eat if you have diarrhea, eating certain foods can help alleviate your diarrhea symptoms and ensure your health doesn’t worsen from not eating. Stick to low-fiber “BRAT” foods that will help firm up your stool. These include:
- rice (white)
Other foods that are usually well-tolerated when experiencing diarrhea include:
- boiled or baked potatoes (with skins peeled)
- baked chicken with skin removed
- chicken soup (which also aids in rehydration)
Foods to avoid
Fried and greasy foods are usually not well-tolerated in people who have diarrhea. You should also consider limiting high-fiber foods like bran as well as fruits and vegetables that can increase bloating. Foods to avoid include:
- artificial sweeteners (found in chewing gum, diet soft drinks and sugar substitutes)
- ice cream
- green leafy vegetables