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When you or your child have diarrhea

Alternate Names

Diarrhea - self-care

Symptoms and Causes

Diarrhea is when you pass loose or watery stool. For some, diarrhea is mild and will go away within a few days. For others, it may last longer. It can make you feel weak and dehydrated (dried out). It can also lead to unhealthy weight loss. A stomach illness can cause diarrhea. Some medical treatments, such as antibiotics and some cancer treatments, can also cause diarrhea.

How to Relieve Diarrhea

These things may help you feel better if you have diarrhea:

  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of clear fluids every day. Water is best.
  • Drink at least 1 cup of liquid every time you have a loose bowel movement.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day, instead of 3 big meals.
  • Eat some salty foods, such as pretzels, soup, and sports drinks.
  • Eat some high potassium foods, such as bananas, potatoes without the skin, and fruit juices.

Ask your doctor if you should take a multivitamin or drink sports drinks to boost your nutrition. Also ask about taking a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil, to add bulk to your stools.

Your doctor may also recommend a special medicine for diarrhea. Take this medicine as your doctor told you to take it.

Eating When You Have Diarrhea

You can bake or broil beef, pork, chicken, fish, or turkey. Cooked eggs are also okay. Use low-fat milk, cheese, or yogurt.

If you have very severe diarrhea, you may need to stop eating or drinking dairy products for a few days.

Eat bread products made from refined, white flour. Pasta, white rice, and cereals such as cream of wheat, farina, oatmeal, and cornflakes are okay. You may also try pancakes and waffles made with white flour, and cornbread, but don’t add to much honey or syrup.

Vegetables you may eat include carrots, green beans, mushrooms, beets, asparagus tips, acorn squash, and peeled zucchini. You should cook them first. Baked potatoes are okay. In general, removing seeds and skins is best.

Some desserts and snacks to try are Jell-O, popsicles, cakes, cookies, and sherbet.

Things You Should Avoid

You should avoid some specific kinds of foods when you have diarrhea:

  • Try to avoid greasy, processed or fast foods, such as white breads, pastries, doughnuts, sausage, and fast-food burgers.
  • Limit or cut out milk and other dairy products if they are making your diarrhea worse or causing gas and bloating.
  • You should also avoid fruits and vegetables that can cause gas. Some of these are broccoli, peppers, beans, peas, berries, prunes, chick peas, green leafy vegetables, and corn.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.

Diarrhea in Young Children

Children who have diarrhea may have less energy, dry eyes, or a dry, sticky mouth. They may also not be urinating or wetting their diaper as often as usual.

Give your child fluids for the first 4 to 6 hours. At first, try 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of fluid every 30 to 60 minutes.

  • You can use an over-the-counter drink, such as Pedialyte or Infalyte. Do not water down these drinks.
  • You can also try Pedialyte popsicles.
  • Watered-down sports drinks, such as Gatorade, or chicken broth may also help. These can give your child important minerals they may be losing through their stool.

If you are breastfeeding your infant, continue to do so. If you are using formula, you may try using it at half strength for 2 to 3 feedings after diarrhea starts. Regular formula feedings can begin after this.

Diapers and diarrhea

If your child throws up, decrease the amount of fluids you give them. You can start with as little as 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes.

When your child is ready for regular foods, try bananas, crackers, chicken, pasta, and rice cereal. Avoid dairy, apple juice, full-strength fruit juice, and fried foods.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your child’s doctor if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Much less activity than normal (is not sitting up at all or not looking around)
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry and sticky mouth
  • No tears when crying
  • Has not urinated for 6 hours
  • Blood or mucus in their stool
  • Fever that does not go away
  • Stomach pain

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Diarrhea for more than 2 days
  • Stools with an unusual odor or color
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blood or mucus in your stool
  • A fever that does not go away
  • Stomach pain

References

Bhutta ZZ. Acute gastroenteritis in children. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 332.

Schiller LR, Sellin JH. Diarrhea. Diarrhea. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 15.

Updated: 12/5/2012

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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