Understanding and Managing Diarrhea: Tips for Restoring Digestive Health

gi health gut health Oct 18, 2023

Diarrhea is a common digestive issue that can cause discomfort and disrupt daily activities. It is characterized by loose, watery stools and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal cramps, bloating, and dehydration.

 

In this blog post, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and effective strategies for managing diarrhea to restore digestive health and overall well-being.

 

Causes of Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be classified as either acute (short term) or chronic. Diarrhea lasting several weeks is considered chronic and associated with more health concerns. It can be describe as one of the following:

  • Osmotic diarrhea

  • Secretory diarrhea

 

When there is an increase in osmotically active particles in the intestine, the body reacts by pulling water into the lumen in an attempt to normalize osmolality. When this occurs, increased fluid results in osmotic diarrhea. Osmotic diarrhea can be caused by maldigestion of nutrients (such as lactose), excessive sorbitol or fructose intake, enteral feeding, and some laxatives. In general when the item that caused diarrhea is removed, osmotic diarrhea will also stop.

 

Secretory diarrhea results from excessive fluid and electrolyte secretions into the intestine. The difference is the underlying disease is the factor causing the excessive secretions. Secretory diarrhea does not stop when you stop eating the causing agent or food.

 

Common causes of secretory diarrhea may include:

  • Viral or bacterial infections: Common culprits include the norovirus, rotavirus, and bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli.

  • Foodborne illnesses: Consuming contaminated (bacterial infection) food or water can lead to diarrhea.

  • Medications: Certain medications, such as antibiotics, can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and cause diarrhea as a side effect.

  • Hormone prodcing tumors

  • Exessive prostaglandin production

  • Excessive amounts of bile acids or unabsorbed fatty acids in the colon

  • Symptom from gastro intestinal disease: Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or celiac disease can cause chronic diarrhea, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

 

Symptoms of Diarrhea:

Common symptoms of diarrhea may include:

  • Frequent, loose, or watery stools
  • Abdominal cramps or pain
  • Bloating or gas
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dehydration (symptoms may include increased thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, or dizziness)

 

Treatment of Diarrhea

Antibiotics will be used to treat diarrhea of infectious origin (bacteria). Other medications work to either decrease motility or to thicken consistency of the stool.

 

Other Tips for Managing Diarrhea that is not bacterial:

  • Stay Hydrated: Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so it's important to drink plenty of fluids. Water, clear broths, herbal teas, and electrolyte-rich beverages like sports drinks or coconut water can help replenish lost fluids and electrolytes.

  • Follow the BRAT Diet: The BRAT diet consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These foods are gentle on the stomach and can help firm up stools.

  • Avoid Trigger Foods: Identify and avoid foods that may worsen your diarrhea. Common triggers include spicy or greasy foods, caffeine, alcohol, simple sugars, sugar alcohols, and high-fiber foods and gas producing foods (such as nuts, beans, corn, broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower.

  • Probiotics: Probiotics, found in yogurt or supplements, can help restore the balance of beneficial gut bacteria and aid in digestion. Consult with a healthcare professional for the appropriate probiotic strain and dosage.

  • Rest and Manage Stress: Resting allows your body to heal and recover. Additionally, managing stress through relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or meditation can help calm the digestive system.

  • Over-the-Counter Medications: Antidiarrheal medications like loperamide can provide temporary relief. However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before using these medications, especially if you have a fever or blood in your stool.

  • Gradually Reintroduce Foods: Once your diarrhea improves, gradually reintroduce bland, easy-to-digest foods like cooked vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Begin with low-fiber, low-fat, lactose-free (if lactose intolerant) foods.

 

Seek Professional Help: If your diarrhea persists for more than a few days, is accompanied by severe abdominal pain, blood in the stool, or signs of dehydration, it is important to seek medical attention for proper evaluation and treatment.

 

Preventing Diarrhea:

Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating, after using the bathroom, and after handling raw foods.

Food safety: Ensure that food is properly cooked and stored to prevent bacterial contamination.

Drink clean water: When traveling or in areas with questionable water quality, drink bottled or boiled water.

Vaccinations: Stay up-to-date with vaccinations, especially for diseases like rotavirus.

 

Conclusion:

Diarrhea can be a temporary inconvenience or a symptom of an underlying condition. By following these tips, you can manage diarrhea, alleviate symptoms, and restore digestive health. Remember, if diarrhea persists or is accompanied by concerning symptoms, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

 

Please note that this blog post is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice. If you have any concerns about your health or diarrhea, please consult your primary care provider. If required request a referral from your primary care provider to gastroenterologist, and then licensed dietitian nutritionist for treatment.

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