Diarrhea is a condition that causes you to pass loose or watery stools instead of solid ones. Stool is 60 to 90 percent water, and diarrhea can cause significant fluid loss and stomach cramping.
Loss of appetite occurs when you no longer have the desire to eat meals or snacks as you once did. This symptom can be short term during an illness. Taking certain medications or undergoing cancer treatments can cause long-term loss of appetite.
Diarrhea itself can lead to loss of appetite. You may not feel like eating because your stomach is upset.
Diarrhea and loss of appetite can have many causes, including:
- lactose intolerance
- celiac disease
- drinking contaminated water
- drug allergies
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- West Nile virus infection (West Nile fever)
- megaloblastic anemia
- pancreatic cancer
- walking pneumonia
- E. coli infection
- food poisoning
- inflammatory bowel diseases
- pernicious anemia
- Addison’s disease
- snake bites
- swine flu
- hookworm infections
- acetaminophen overdose
- peripheral neuropathy
- PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- irritable bowel syndrome
- taking certain antibiotics, such as penicillin
- taking other medications, such as quinidine, quinine, or orlistat
- having had intestinal resection, gastric bypass, or gastric resection surgery
- cancer treatments
- viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
A rare cause of diarrhea and loss of appetite is carcinoid syndrome, a condition in which tumors grow in the digestive tract. Some other forms of cancer may also cause diarrhea.
When to seek medical help
Seek immediate medical attention if your diarrhea and loss of appetite are accompanied by dizziness, blood or pus in the stool, or a fever higher than 101°F (38°C).
See your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away or improve after five days. Children should see a doctor if symptoms persist after two days.
You should also see your doctor if you have dehydration symptoms, such as a lower than usual amount of urine, dry mouth, and dizziness. In addition to dehydration, diarrhea causes your body to lose electrolytes, which can cause muscle cramps, heart arrhythmias (rhythm problems), and low blood volume. People who are very young, very old, or sick can quickly develop life-threatening symptoms.
Treating diarrhea and loss of appetite
Diarrhea may be the body’s reaction to harmful bacteria or a parasite. Your doctor can prescribe medication if needed, but often it’s not necessary. Diarrhea related to contaminated food or drink will resolve on its own.
There are over-the-counter medications that can slow the digestive tract’s movements and also reduce diarrhea and cramping. Always talk to your doctor before taking any of these medications.
Home treatments for diarrhea and loss of appetite
Fluid loss is a major concern when you have diarrhea and loss of appetite. Not only are you losing water, but you’re losing important electrolytes. You may wish to drink a beverage that contains electrolytes, such as a sports drink or Pedialyte formula. Juice or broth may also help if they don’t further upset your stomach.
Eating several small meals of bland foods such as crackers, toast, oatmeal, pudding, rice, or plain baked chicken may ease symptoms. Avoiding spicy, high-fiber, or raw foods can also reduce symptoms. Foods and drinks to avoid when you have diarrhea include:
- caffeine from coffee, tea, cola, and some headache remedies
- those that are high in fructose, such as apple juice, pear juice, grapes, honey, dates, prunes, nuts, figs, and soft drinks
- sugar-free gum or candy that contains sorbitol
- lactose in milk, ice cream, frozen yogurt, regular yogurt, soft cheeses
- magnesium-based antacids
- olestra, found in certain fat-free foods
Preventing diarrhea and loss of appetite
Taking supplements called probiotics may boost healthy bacteria in your digestive system. These supplements are available at most grocery stores, drugstores, and health food stores.
Traveling to a foreign country can mean eating food and drinking water that contains different bacteria than you’re accustomed to. Drink bottled or purified water when you travel, and avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables. You should also avoid dairy products and raw meats.
Your doctor may prescribe preventive antibiotics before you take a trip to certain areas to reduce your risk for diarrhea.