Simple diarrhea, unconnected to disease elsewhere in the body, can have many different causes. It may be a viral or bacterial infection that clears up in a few days. Bouts that are accompanied by nausea and vomiting may be a consequence of contaminated food or water. A brief, mild episode may originate in unwise eating or drinking, or it maybe a response to stress. Recurrent attacks may signal a food allergy or a condition known as irritable bowel syndrome.
Notify your doctor if loose, watery bowel movements continue for more than 3 days, if blood or mucus is in the stool, or if fever or vomiting accompany diarrhea.
Because an infant under 3 months can quickly lose enough fluid to become dehydrated, diarrhea is a cause for concern; call the doctor at the outset. An infant on formula can be given half-strength formula with water; no change is necessary for a breast-fed infant.
Give a child clear liquids: weak tea, broth, popsicles, soda pop half and half with water, gelatin desserts, or half-strength skim milk. As bowel frequency diminishes, offer constipating foods: mashed banana, rice or rice cereal, apple pieces, toast with a tiny bit of butter, yogurt, baked potatoes.
Older children and adults should be treated similarly for mild diarrhea. A day of clear liquids, then a day or so of bland, nonfatty foods, may suffice. An over-the-counter remedy containing kaolin or pectin, or the two in combination, may help firm up the bowel movement. If these steps fail to arrest the problem, call your doctor.
On a foreign trip diarrhea can usually be traced to uncooked foods or untreated water. As a precaution, wash and peel fruits before eating them, eat cooked vegetables, and drink bottled or boiled water or other liquids. When you are planning a foreign trip, ask your doctor what remedies to carry.