You know what they say, ‘when you gotta go, you gotta go! Your growling stomach can catch you off guard in the strangest of situations, and no, hunger pangs are not the issue! Leaving a meeting halfway through or storming out of class during a test can be outright embarrassing.

Was it something you had for dinner last night? Perhaps the morning coffee didn’t quite sit well this time. Whatever the reason, diarrhea can be a pain in the butt. Literally!

In many cases little or no intervention is required other than hydration and symptomatic management. However, caution is advised and help from a healthcare professional should be sought immediately for any significant concerns such as unusual stomach pain, bleeding or intractable symptoms of any kind.

Knowing is half the battle so this article will focus on the causes of diarrhea, particularly foods that cause diarrhea and how to stop diarrhea dead in its tracks. Before we get down and dirty (pun intended), let’s start with the basics. Medically, diarrhea is defined as ‘loose, watery stools or a frequent need to have a bowel movement.’

What causes diarrhea?

Episodic diarrhea usually lasts for a couple of days. A pang here and there and it’s gone before you know it. In other words, it is self-limiting. Depending on its onset and how long it sticks around, diarrhea can be classified into two types; acute and chronic.

Acute diarrhea is when the condition lasts for a couple of days (typically less than a week). It may be due to a viral or bacterial infection. Comes and goes-nothing serious. Frequent travelers often experience upset stomachs (or Delhi belly) which is usually contracted by ingesting contaminated water or food. A condition often referred to as ‘traveler’s diarrhea’.

Chronic diarrhea can last up to four weeks, generally indicating a more serious underlying source like intestinal disorders that usually require further investigation. Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, such as Crohn’s disease are common causes of chronic diarrhea.

Diarrhea can make you lose a considerable amount of body water and electrolytes, even in a few days. It’s extremely important to keep yourself hydrated. If the diarrhea persists for a longer time, you may experience abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and may feel feverish as well. Later on, signs of dehydration such as increased thirst, lightheadedness, dry mouth and decreased urination may begin to appear. If you feel increasingly weary, it’s better to contact your doctor as soon as possible.

The most common cause of diarrhea in children is the rotavirus. According to a recent study, diarrhea associated deaths in the United States appear to be increasing in recent years. An average of 369 diarrhea-associated deaths occurred annually among US children aged 1 to 59 months.

Watch out for dehydration!

Young children and babies can become dehydrated in just one day. They become irritable, sluggish, develop sunken eyes and dry mouth. They may cry without tears and you may notice a depression or a sunken area in the middle of the head, also known as a ‘sunken fontanelle’. You should take your child to a physician if diarrhea persists or is associated with fever or occurs with blood or pus.

Green diarrhea? Is that a thing?

Pediatricians often get asked about ‘green diarrhea’, particularly by anxious first-time parents. No, it’s not because the baby is cold. That’s just an old wives’ tale. Typically, there is nothing to worry about. Green stool is in fact a common fecal color change and is caused by the presence of bile pigments which are normally present in stool. Diarrhea moves the food so quickly through the gut that the intestinal bacteria can’t break down the pigments, preventing the stool from attaining its normal brown color. Green vegetables and foods that contain green food color can also cause the stool to turn green.

Now how do you deal with an unexpected stomach bug? It really depends on how long you’ve been suffering from it and what is causing it. The first line treatment for diarrhea is aimed at replacing lost fluids. Just focus on drinking lots of water and electrolytes especially if the diarrhea continues for more than a few days. You should be able to get them easily at your local drug store. Sometimes, intra-venous fluids must be administered in case of dehydration to restore water and electrolyte imbalance. To be on the safe side, prolonged diarrhea warrants a visit to the clinic or hospital. It is best to consult your physician as antibiotics may have to be prescribed to eliminate any infection and you can always get online on

Various medications are used to treat individuals who suffer from chronic conditions like IBS. Anti-spasmodics, anti-motility agents and low dose antidepressants help control most symptoms. To make sure you take the medicines on time, a prescription tracker, the iMEDtracker app can be downloaded from the Android Play store or Apple store.

Diarrhea treatment involves small but pertinent diet and lifestyle changes which can really help change the course of the disease process. There are a number of foods that exacerbate diarrhea and should be avoided:

  • Spicy food
  • Raw vegetables
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Coffee and other caffeinated/carbonated drinks
  • Onions
  • Fried and greasy food

If you happen to encounter diarrhea in the morning and can’t afford to be late for work, grab a banana or munch on some toast before heading out. These foods won’t aggravate the digestive system. They act as ‘binders’ and will augment diarrhea treatment by firming up the stool.

Here are some other foods that stop diarrhea fast or have shown to give quick results:

  • Rice
  • Apples/applesauce
  • Cooked cereal
  • Soda crackers
  • Remember to stay hydrated. You can take other liquids besides water as well such as:
  • Clear Broth
  • Coconut water (without added sugar)
  • Sports drinks (they contain some electrolytes although not enough)
  • Mild teas and herbs

There is a reason they say, ‘prevention is better than cure’. It’s less of a burden to stop something from happening than to repair the damage after it has happened. Here are a couple of quick pointers that can help prevent diarrhea:

  • Be more vigilant and frequent in cleaning the washing those cooking areas.
  • Immediately refrigerate cooked food after heating
  • Use bottled water while vacationing
  • Avoid raw food while dining out
  • Wash hands well
  • Use sanitizer when out

The next time your gut tells you something isn’t right, listen to it!

Explore more topics at iMEDHealth.


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