Diarrhoea and vomiting - dos and don'ts
Diarrhea Treatment Do's and Don'ts
Diarrhea got you down? To get back to feeling like yourself again, find out what to do - and what not to do - to ditch diarrhea.
By Wyatt Myers
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Everyone has to deal with an unpleasant bout of diarrhea every once in awhile. Unfortunately, often the causes of diarrhea - and sometimes the very reasons it keeps going on as long as it does - are of our own doing.
Take handwashing, one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of germs, as an example. "The American Society of Microbiology found that 97 percent of women and 92 percent of men claimed they washed their hands after using the toilet," says Steven Kussin, MD, a gastroenterologist in New York and author ofDoctor, Your Patient Will See You Now."In reality, 75 percent and 58 percent [respectively] actually do."
Luckily, just like washing your hands regularly, most of the things you can do to stop diarrhea, or at least prevent diarrhea from getting worse, are easy to incorporate into our everyday routines. Here's what you need to know about the diarrhea do's and don'ts.
Try these steps to help stop diarrhea:
- Do avoid dairy products.If you have lactose intolerance, then dairy products can be a major cause of diarrhea and should be avoided in general. And even if you don't have lactose intolerance, dairy products can aggravate the gut and prolong symptoms when you have an active case of diarrhea. For this reason, it's best to curb milk and other dairy until your symptoms improve.
- Do steer clear of too much fiber.Fiber is incredibly healthy when it comes to your everyday diet. But since one of its major benefits is keeping you regular, it makes sense that fiber could be a problem when you're trying to avoid loose stools. For that reason, Dr. Kussin suggests curbing your intake of fibrous vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods during an active case of diarrhea.
- Do eat a simple diet.The traditional anti-diarrhea diet was the "BRAT" diet, which stood for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. "BRAT is backed more by time, practice, and myth than by science," says Kussin. "Bananas and apples can actually sometimes cause diarrhea. When you have diarrhea, just take it easy. A day or two of soup, toast, lean meat, and water is likely all you will need."
- Do wash your hands regularly.As Kussin pointed out, washing your hands is so simple, yet people frequently don't do it properly or don't do it at all. "When you do wash, scrub your palms, the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails, and do it for at least 20 seconds," he says. "Also, make sure to lather up before and after preparing food, before and after eating it, and each time you touch your pet or use the toilet."
- Do stay hydrated.Above most other things, replenishing the fluids that can be lost during severe diarrhea is an important step to take. "Gatorade, while not having the same electrolytes that are lost from diarrhea, is fine for healthy people with acute diarrhea," says Kussin. "Fruit juices, saltine crackers, and other sodium-containing light foods like soup and broth will also replace the lost volume and electrolytes."
- Do use bottom wipes if needed.If you find that your rear end is getting irritated after a few days of severe diarrhea, Kussin says that moistened wipes can be a good idea to bring relief. "Diarrhea is irritating to the skin around the anal opening, and this sensitive area is further irritated by frequent cleaning with standard toilet paper," he explains. "Hypoallergenic and non-scented moisturized baby wipes, such as Nice 'N Cleanbaby wipes, will decrease the friction this beleaguered area must endure."
Knowing what not to do is essential for speedy relief of diarrhea:
- Don't use medications without taking some precautions.In general, Kussin says the best approach for run-of-the-mill acute diarrhea is to treat the symptoms with rest, hydration, and a diet that's easy on the stomach. If you do rely on medications, gentle preparations like Pepto-Bismol are usually okay, but more intense anti-diarrheal medications like Immodium that can stop you up completely are generally not a good idea. "When you have acute diarrheal problems, the cure is the diarrhea," says Kussin. "Getting rid of the offending agent through evacuation is important and not to be interfered with."
- Don't treat diarrhea with herbs.Some herbs have been shown to be effective in dealing with diarrhea, but in most cases of diarrhea, going down this road would be a bit of overkill. "As always, the purity and potential toxicities [in herbs] must be taken into account," says Kussin. "In an otherwise innocent diarrhea that is destined to go away on its own, I would discourage their use on this fact alone."
- Don't ignore the symptoms of diarrhea if it gets severe.If you have severe diarrhea that lasts more than four weeks; bloody diarrhea; nocturnal diarrhea; or diarrhea associated with abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, fever, or weight loss, it's a good idea to see your doctor to make sure your diarrhea isn't a sign of a more serious condition.
If it's just your typical - albeit annoying and uncomfortable - diarrhea that only lasts a few days, stay the course with gentle foods, rest, and hydration. Most cases of diarrhea will resolve on their own. Until yours does, treat yourself with some TLC and try not to stress yourself out too much about it.
Video: How to treat diarrhoea
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