How can I manage diarrhea without medication?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

The key to managing diarrhea is to replace the fluid being lost and not causing further irritation to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. To replace the fluid loss, drink lots of clear fluids. Sipping fluids throughout the day is more effective than trying to tolerate large quantities. Sports drinks are a good choice because they replace electrolytes in addition to providing fluid. Avoid drinking alcohol, caffeine and milk as these tend to irritate the GI tract and may prolong the diarrhea. In some cases a basic oral rehydration solution consisting of clean water, sugar and salt based on a standard ratio may be recommended.

If solid foods are being consumed, choose bland, soft foods such as ripe bananas, rice, white pasta, dry  toast, or chicken (without the skin). Avoid foods that are greasy, high in fiber or overly sweet as they can aggravate the diarrhea.

Finally, be sure to take care of the skin on your bottom. Clean it with clear water or water and a mild soap and  use a topical barrier such as zinc oxide, A&D ointment or Vaseline to protect your skin from the constant exposure to the diarrhea stool.

Jeanne Longbottom, MSN
Hospice Nursing Specialist

The most important thing to remember with diarrhea is that you are losing fluids which need to be replaced. Dehydration is serious especially in children, the elderly and pregnant women. If you have not urinated in 8 hours, have a dry tacky mouth & tongue, have skin that doesn't "bounce back" when pinched softly on the back of the hand, feel very weak, or dizzy call your healthcare provider. In children sunken eyes, lack of tears with crying, fever and excessive fussiness or drowsiness can indicate dehydration which needs professional attention.

Replacing fluids is best done with oral rehydrating solution (Pedialyte) or sports drinks rather than just plain water. Sipping small amounts of different fluids are often tolerated well. Avoid caffeine or excessive sugar in drinks. Although breast milk is excellent for an infant with or without diarrhea, cow’s milk or milk based formula is not a good choice for your baby with diarrhea. Giving older children small amounts of fluids or slushes served in doll dishes, good china, or other fun tableware can increase interest in drinking. Popsicles or frozen juice, especially apple juice which has a high level of pectin, can be fun and good sources of hydration. Pectin is a substance found in gelatin, jelly, bananas, peaches and other firm fruits. Pectin is the substance that makes gelatin gel which can also help diarrhea stools “gel”.

When diarrhea stools decrease you can start adding small amounts of solid food. The acronym BRAT is a good reminder of preferred first food choices. Bananas, Rice including rice cereals, Apples or applesauce, and Toast which includes starchy foods like crackers, noodles, and bread are usually tolerated by most people. Advance your diet as tolerated to low fat, low fiber foods. Active cultures in yogurt and acidophilus milk can replace probiotics lost by the bowel through a bout of diarrhea.

Take good care of yourself and remember to "float" through a bout of diarrhea with lots of fluids.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.