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Dos and Don'ts for Quick Relief of Diarrhoea
If you have a case of the loosies or the runs, we really feel for you. It’s tough to be on edge constantly, worrying about a gurgling stomach, and wondering if you need to rush to the loo.
If diarrhea continues for several days, you are at risk for severe dehydration, and kidney and urinary tract problems. Chronic diarrhea may also indicate diseases like Crohn's or viral/bacterial infections.
Thankfully we’ve got a list of things you should and shouldn’t do, to minimize the fallout of diarrhea and recover faster. These are mainly useful for acute diarrhea that lasts a day or two, assuming that any serious health problems have been ruled out, as mitigating measures won’t suffice for complex issues.
Drink Tons of Fluids
The first rule is to keep yourself as hydrated as possible. Water at room temperature or slightly warmed is the best bet. We know it can get nauseating after a while, so try mixing in some fruit juice.
Lukewarm herbal teas may soothe the stomach. You can also gulp down a glass of water with electrolytes like potassium, sodium, and chloride. For example, Pedialyte/Naturalyte in water replenishes lost nutrients and fluid. Broth and clear soups are also calming and nourishing. Adding salt to a broth or juice, helps the body absorb more water.
Ideally, you should try to drink one full or a half glass of liquids after each bowel movement or bout of vomiting to make up for the water loss.
Another option is rice water. A cup of rice is boiled in 2 cups of water until the water becomes cloudy. The water is then strained and cooled down. This rice water has an adhesive effect on the stool, making it firmer and more solid. This can reduce both the intensity and duration of diarrhea.
Eat Bland and Dry Foods
Your diet during diarrhea should be mild and non-sensitizing. The BRAT diet has worked for many years and continues to be reliable. Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast, are all low in fiber so they won't stimulate bowel movements. They are also high in starch which can make your stools bulkier and harder. Other similarly nonirritating foods are saltine crackers, boiled potatoes, and carrots, to name a few. The one exception to the dairy product ban during diarrhea is probiotic yogurt, which can restore bacterial balance and alleviate diarrhea.
Eat whenever you feel hungry, but eat 5-6 smaller meals rather than 2-3 large meals. Too much food at a time can intensify pressure; your digestive system should be given a light load to process during this time.
When you have short-term and acute diarrhea for a few days, there is any number of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines like loperamide/Imodium or bismuth subsalicylate drugs like Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol. The latter kills microorganisms, but be cautious with loperamide because it stops the movement in your GI tract, which isn’t healthy. Ideally, any contaminants should be flushed out, and diarrhea is your body’s way of ejecting toxins. Take medications under advisement and in moderation.
Know When to Consult a Doctor
If diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting last only for 2-3 days, you can treat yourself at home and rest. If the diarrhea is persistent i.e., for more than 2 weeks you should consult a doctor. It could be that you have a viral infection or gastroenteritis. Norovirus or rotavirus can infect you through contaminaed food and water. This requires specific antiviral treatment, which a medical practitioner can provide. You may also have food poisoning from Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli or be infected with botulism toxins. These will also need medically monitored antibiotic treatments or anti-toxin injections.
If your diarrhea becomes chronic i.e., more than 4 weeks, it could signal some serious underlying issues that you need to get checked out. It could also be a side-effect of other medications you are on, that compromise your GI system's ability to regulate itself.
If at any point, you begin to have symptoms like blood in your stool, dark and tarry stools, high-grade fever that won’t let up, excessive thirst, severe rectal or abdominal pain, or weakness, you need to seek urgent medical help.
Avoid Certain Drinks
Yes, hydration is key – but not with carbonated/soft drinks, juices with high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, caffeine, and alcohol. Artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol, and aspartame can make diarrhea a whole lot worse. These drinks can aggravate the digestive system, as can milk and dairy which trigger temporary lactose intolerance and gas. Very hot or cold fluids can irritate the gastric tract too, so have liquids at room temperature.
2. Don’t Overeat, Avoid Certain Foods
Stay away from spicy, fried, over-seasoned, and oily foods. These inflame the intestines. Eat roast or boiled meat and eggs, and limit your quantities. Forget about processed foods like chips, chocolates, cakes, and cookies, till you get better. Vegetables aren’t recommended during this time as they are high in fiber, especially those which produce gas like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and beans. Avoid high-fiber grains like brown rice, whole wheat items, and bran for the duration of the illness.
Don’t Treat Yourself or Delay Medical Consults
If diarrhea becomes persistent or chronic, don't delay seeking a doctor's opinion. It is not wise to let the situation deteriorate until there is an emergency. Along the same lines, do not self-medicate with antibiotics or antivirals unless your doctor has recommended the same.
No Gruelling Exercise
When your body is already losing electrolytes, the last thing you want is more dehydration courtesy of intense exercise, which takes out more salt and water via sweating. Further dehydration will distress your GI tract, exacerbating nausea and heartburn.
We hope our quick reference has come in handy during your time of need. To recover soon, just follow the rules strictly, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time.
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