If you suffer from an attack of diarrhea, the first thing to establish is how serious it is. Acute diarrhea usually lasts for 2-5 days – and you will probably need to go to the bathroom urgently 3 or 4 times a day – maybe more. If your diarrhea has gone on much longer than that, and you’ve been suffering for over a fortnight, then that is chronic diarrhea and you definitely need to see a doctor. There will almost certainly be some underlying medical cause, and this will need specialist treatment.
Diarrhea is often your body’s way of getting rid of any bad bacteria in your system. These bacteria have often arrived from many different sources – but some of the most common are: the flu, a course of antibiotics, food poisoning, a viral infection, or contaminated water. Diarrhea is common with children and although a viral infection is sometimes the cause, it is often because of poor hygiene or they have eaten something they shouldn’t! People often also experience diarrhea when travelling. This can occur if you travel to under-developed areas with unpurified water, or it can just be your stomach’s reaction to unfamiliar food.
If you are suffering from diarrhea, your first stop will often be the chemist. Medicines such as Pepto-Bismol and Imodium will certainly help, but they are treating the symptoms rather than the cause. So what can you do to help yourself?
The first thing is that you must make sure you don’t get dehydrated as your body is losing fluids. This is especially vital with young children or the elderly. It’s very important to keep replacing your body’s supply of water and electrolytes, which include sodium, potassium and chloride. Stir a half-teaspoon of salt and four teaspoons of sugar into a litre of water and add a very small amount of natural orange or lemon juice. Drink this regularly during the day – and make sure you have taken in the full litre over 12 hours.
If you can face eating, then something like chicken broth (clear not creamy) is considered an especially good choice, since it is very nourishing and supplies your body with water as well as electrolytes from the salt. Avoid foods that are rich in roughage, which can be hard to digest and cause gas which will make the problem worse! That means no beans, broccoli, cabbage, peas, corn, chickpeas, peppers or sprouts. Fried and greasy foods are also a definite no-no – the fat content will not help at all.
Dairy products like milk or cheese won’t help your diarrhea symptoms either. However, yoghurt is a good choice as it helps to restore healthy levels of the good bacteria in your intestine. Make sure you are choosing a yogurt which contains ‘live cultures’ like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium. You can also get these probiotics in powder or pill form – and these natural, over-the-counter remedies would be a good option if you don’t like yoghurt.
When it comes to drinks, water mixed as described above is your best choice. Make sure you avoid fruit juices as large amounts of fructose can be hard to digest; and alcohol, fizzy drinks or coffee will also make your symptoms worse. However, you can drink black tea sweetened with sugar. The hot water helps with rehydration and tea contains astringent tannins that will help reduce intestinal inflammation.
Remember – if your diarrhea has not gone after two weeks – see a doctor.