Diarrhea can be a symptom of various problems including illness, an adverse reaction to medication or intense nervousness (anxiety). Although it is never welcomed, diarrhea can be very useful. For example, it helps the body rapidly eliminate microbes that have found their way into the intestines due to an infection or food poisoning.
Generally speaking, it can be said that when diarrhea occurs on its own, it is seldom serious and will resolve itself naturally within a few days. However, if it lasts more than 48 hours or is accompanied by fever, dizziness, blood in the stools or severe cramps, it is recommended that you see your doctor. It is important to remember that frequent diarrhea may be symptomatic of a more serious problem.
Diarrhea is defined as loose, frequent, and watery stools (≥ 3 episodes of watery or loose stools in 24 hours). A person suffering from diarrhea is more prone to dehydration, a state that should be prevented and treated as soon as possible. The most common signs and symptoms of dehydration include:
Dehydration caused by a significant loss of fluids in adults can be avoided by drinking a specially formulated solution (known as an electrolyte solution which contains mineral salts and sugars). Drinking a commercial electrolyte solution is recommended, although a homemade solution (see Electrolyte Solution recipe) is a suitable temporary alternative.
If dehydration is not too severe, continue with normal diet and drink the rehydration solution. Eating small amounts of food, more frequently, is recommended. It is also important to avoid alcohol and caffeine since the diuretic effect of such beverages greatly increases urine output, thereby increasing the effects of dehydration. Flat soft drinks, apple juice and sweetened beverages are not recommended.
The approach used to prevent dehydration in babies or young children should be adapted to suit the child's nutritional requirements.
For mild to moderate cases of diarrhea, oral rehydration is best achieved with a commercial solution (ex. Pedialyte®, Gastrolyte®). Temporary use of a homemade solution is also possible .
When preparing this solution, it is important to respect the recommended quantities. Do not substitute any of the ingredients without first consulting with a healthcare professional. The solution should be freshly prepared and kept in the refrigerator or at room temperature, depending on your preference.
|Demineralized or boiled water||2 ½ cups (600 mL)|
|Unsweetened orange juice||1 ½ cups (360 mL)|
|Table salt||½ tsp. (2.5 mL)|
To prevent dehydration, it is best to start oral rehydration with an oral rehydration solution at the onset of diarrhea.
Adults - Take small, frequent sips, as tolerated.
Children - Oral rehydration solutions are all the more important in children because they are more likely than adults to become dehydrated. For mild to moderate dehydration, 1 mL/kg every 5 minutes, over a period of 3 to 4 hours, is recommended. Afterwards, for each watery stool or episode of vomiting, add 1 mL/kg every 5 minutes for 1 hour. A spoon, oral syringe or cup can be used.
CAUTION: An oral rehydration solution will help prevent dehydration but will not stop diarrhea or vomiting.
Drugs known as antidiarrheals fight diarrhea by reducing the amount of water in stool. They do so by slowing the movement of the intestine or by increasing the reabsorption of water across the intestinal walls.
Because antidiarrheals work by slowing intestinal movement, they may prevent the body from eliminating the microbes responsible for the diarrhea and could in fact worsen the situation. That said, the use of antidiarrheals should be avoided if you have a fever since the fever may be the result of food poisoning or some type of infection.
When indicated, medications such as Imodium® are very effective when it comes to alleviating diarrhea and cramps. Attapulgite-based preparations are also effective when used properly. Other products provide little or no results (kaolin-pectin) or require very large amounts to achieve results (Pepto Bismol®). For information on whether you should take an antidiarrheal, or to find out which one is best for you, speak to your pharmacist.
Remember that frequent hand-washing can significantly reduce the risk of spreading contagious diseases!
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.