The Lowdown on Diarrhea: When is It Time to See a Doctor
If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
Diarrhea is a menace in the form of hard-to-control bowel movements and loose, watery stools three or more times per day—quite the hassle when you’re at work, traveling, or doing everyday activities. Other unpleasant diarrhea symptoms include:
- An urgent need to use the bathroom
- Inability to control bowel movements
- Stomach pain
5 ways to overcome diarrhea
1. Stay hydratedThere are over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions sold in pharmacies, but I always suggest to patients an easy way to make it at home. Mix six teaspoons of sugar, one-half teaspoon of salt, and a half-gallon of water in a container and drink it throughout the day. The sugar and salt help your body absorb water better, which keeps you better hydrated.
2. Consider taking zinc supplementsZinc been shown to reduce the severity and duration of diarrhea, especially in children. This is used more commonly in developing countries, but something to keep in mind if you’re having ongoing acute diarrhea.
3. Eat a healthy dietI advise my patients to eat a healthy, nutritious diet full of plant-based protein, increased yogurt intake, and additional prebiotic foods. These nutrients can restore the beneficial bacteria that diarrhea causes your body to flush out.
4. Avoid antibioticsAntibiotics could be used to treat diarrhea, but most times they can do more harm than good. Antibiotics can disrupt the microbiome, or the trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi found primarily in a person's gut, and can cause more long-term symptoms. Plus, they can cause antibiotic-associated diarrhea from irritation or changes to the colon bacteria and even cause an infection with C. difficile. I reserve antibiotic treatment for those patients for whom it’s the only feasible treatment, such as for a proven, serious infection.
5. Consider taking probioticsIf I do prescribe an antibiotic, I typically recommend eating yogurt, which includes Lactobacillus, a natural probiotic that reduces the severity and duration of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Keep in mind, most probiotic supplements are not FDA regulated, so buying a probiotic and expecting big results could be a shot in the dark. Fermented foods are an excellent source of prebiotics as well and a great addition to your daily food intake. Examples of such foods are sauerkraut, kombucha tea, tempeh (made from fermented soy beans), and miso (a Japanese seasoning made from soybeans fermented with koji, which is a natural fungus. Prebiotics are foods that feed the good bacteria in our gut. You can find prebiotics in plant-based foods such as dandelion greens, onion, garlic, leeks, and common foods like asparagus, green unripe bananas, oats, and barley.
When to seek treatmentEven when taking preventative measures, there are times, what I call “red flag symptoms,” when a person should visit their doctor, such as when there are:
- Nocturnal stools or waking up in the middle of the night to have a bowel movement
- Signs of blood in the stool
- Symptoms of weight loss, fevers, or night sweats
- Times when diarrhea occurs even without eating, or on an empty stomach