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When you have diarrhea

Diarrhea is the passage of 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 lose too much fluid (dehydrated) and feel weak. It can also lead to unhealthy weight loss.

The stomach flu is a common cause of diarrhea. Medical treatments, such as antibiotics and some cancer treatments can also cause diarrhea.

Alternate Names

Diarrhea - self-care; Diarrhea - gastroenteritis

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 OK. 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 OK. You may also try pancakes and waffles made with white flour, and cornbread. But don't add too much honey or syrup.

You should eat vegetables, including carrots, green beans, mushrooms, beets, asparagus tips, acorn squash, and peeled zucchini. Cook them first. Baked potatoes are OK. In general, removing seeds and skins is best.

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

Things you should avoid eating or drinking

You should avoid certain kinds of foods when you have diarrhea, including fried foods and greasy foods.

Avoid fruits and vegetables that can cause gas, such as broccoli, peppers, beans, peas, berries, prunes, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables, and corn.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.

Limit or cut out milk and other dairy products if they are making your diarrhea worse or causing gas and bloating.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if you have:

  • The diarrhea gets worse or does not get better in 2 days for an infant or child, or 5 days for adults
  • 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

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: 12/4/2013

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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