At some point in your life, you may have had the unfortunate experience of having diarrhea. Whether it’s due to a stomach bug, a sensitive tummy, food poisoning or any other number of factors, you know having the runs is never a pleasant experience. And since it’s not a topic you’re likely to discuss regularly, you may not even know a lot about its causes or how to treat it effectively.
Luckily there are a number of ways to treat this unfortunate condition and get you out of the bathroom and back to your normal restroom rituals.
Diarrhea is clinically defined as having three or more bowel movements a day, but the term is commonly used to describe occurrences of liquid or loose (non-solid) stool. Patients diagnosed with functional diarrhea experience loose stool during 75 percent of their bowel movements for more than three months without any identifiable cause.
Usually diarrhea occurs after eating food or drinking water contaminated with bacteria (common among travelers eating food prepared under less than sanitary conditions) or after contact with a virus, such as rhinovirus or rotavirus. But gastrointestinal disorders can also be to blame. People with lactose intolerance who eat or drink foods containing dairy products can develop diarrhea as well, but it can often come about mysteriously, clearing up on its own in a few days.
Symptoms of diarrhea can include weight loss, abdominal cramping, chills, and dehydration, all of which should subside when the condition runs it course (no pun intended). But if the diarrhea is bloody and a fever develops, contact a doctor immediately as those may be symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease or Chron’s disease.
Diarrhea is the body’s way of eliminating toxins, and often no treatment is required. If symptoms persist, over-the-counter medications containing loperamide (such as Immodium) and bismuth sub-salicylate (Pepto-Bismol) can help move bacteria out of the digestive tract. It may also be a good idea to try psyllium husk, an herbal remedy made from crushed seeds, to firm up loose stool. Slippery elm, with its oatmeal-like texture, has a similar effect and is used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat bloody diarrhea in particular.
If food poisoning is the cause, consider barberry extract and goldenseal, which contain the compound berberine, to help kill bacteria in the intestines. The herb marshmallow is commonly used by sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome and may relieve symptoms of regular diarrhea as well. If cramps are troublesome, German chamomile can help relax those painful muscle contractions in the intestines. Also consider taking a supplement made with quercetin, a flavonoid antioxidant found in citrus fruits and dark berries, to cleanse the system.
Diarrhea sufferers should avoid citrus drinks and alcohol, and consume plenty of water and apple juice. Soda can also be beneficial. In severe cases, small amounts of Gatorade can help replace depleted sugars and electrolytes. Within the first 24 hours of a diarrhea episode, avoid eating solid foods, but if you must, give low fiber, easy-to-digest foods like rice, applesauce and toast a try.
Now that you’re prepped with all the diarrhea details, you’ll be better prepared the next time you’re tied to the toilet.