How to treat diarrhea

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.

Traveler’s diarrhea

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.