Diarrhea refers to loose, watery stool and frequent, urgent bowel movements. Diarrhea is usually a nonthreatening, common condition that may be accompanied by stomach cramping, abdominal pain, or bloating. Diarrhea will usually resolve itself within a few days, sometimes with the help of over-the-counter medication.
The average adult and child will experience an occasional episode of diarrhea, typically caused by:
- an intestinal virus (like the flu)
- bacteria (like salmonella)
- a parasite
Chronic or regularly occurring diarrhea can be an indication of a more serious digestive condition (like malabsorption or Crohn’s disease) or food intolerance (like celiac disease or lactose intolerance). It can also be a reaction to certain medications, such as chemotherapy or antibiotics.
When you have diarrhea, your body immediately disposes of foods and liquids instead of absorbing them. This can cause dehydration, so it is important to replenish your body with not only water but also nutrients. Fruit juice, sports drinks, and coconut water are all good sources of electrolytes. It is especially important that babies and children with diarrhea get plenty of fluids, because they tend to dehydrate more quickly than adults.
Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods, which can exacerbate diarrhea. Instead, stick to a bland diet of broth, boiled vegetables, rice, and crackers until symptoms disappear. If symptoms last longer than a few days, see your doctor to explore the cause of your diarrhea. If bacteria or a parasite is the cause, antibiotics might be prescribed. If malabsorption is the cause, enzymes can be prescribed to improve absorption.