About This Condition
Diarrhea is any attack of frequent, watery stools.
Diarrhea can be triggered by many different conditions. Acute diarrhea is often caused by an infection and may require medical management. The primary role of nutrition in acute diarrhea is to prevent depletion of fluid, sodium, potassium, and calories. Replenishment of all four has been achieved with “rehydration solutions” and with a variety of foods, from salted carrot soup to peeled scraped apple to rice gruel. However, diarrhea severe enough to necessitate the use of rehydration solutions requires direct medical supervision. Therefore, nutritional approaches to overcoming depletion of fluid, sodium, potassium, and calories are not discussed here, but rather should be discussed with a doctor. Diarrhea-induced low blood sugar, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalance can be serious or even life-threatening, particularly if prolonged in children.
A healthcare provider should be consulted if diarrhea continues for more than a few days, as it may indicate a more serious health condition. Diarrhea alternating with constipation may be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Normal bowel habits vary considerably from person to person depending on age, diet, cultural factors, and individual physiology. However, loose watery stools occurring three or more times in one day is generally considered abnormal. In some instances, diarrhea may be accompanied by cramping abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, loss of appetite, and bloody or foul-smelling stools.
Rest, along with fluid replacement using Pedialyte®, Ceralyte®, or Infalyte®, is often recommended. Severe diarrhea, especially in children and the elderly, may require hospitalization for urgent fluid and electrolyte replacement in order to correct dehydration.