Call your doctor or 911 immediately if you or your child may have swallowed a poisonous substance that is causing diarrhea.
If your child becomes severely dehydrated, seek your pediatrician's advice. You may be advised to go to the emergency department, where your child will be given IV fluids for several hours. Hospitalization is usually not necessary. However, your child may be hospitalized if the doctor finds any abnormality of the blood electrolytes, or if there are other associated complications or disease.
Contact a doctor if your child has diarrhea accompanied by a high fever (more than 102°F or 39°C), vomiting, severe abdominal pain, or stools containing blood or mucus. Call the doctor immediately if you see signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth, sticky saliva, dizziness or weakness, or dark yellow urine. Always contact your doctor if diarrhea lasts for more than a few hours in a child younger than six months of age. Also seek advice if a child younger than three years of age has diarrhea for more than one day. For older children, call the doctor if acute diarrhea is accompanied by dehydration, bloody or slimy stools, a temperature over 101°F, no urination in the past eight hours, or stomach pains that last for more than two hours.
You can manage a mild case of diarrhea at home by resting, drinking lots of clear liquids, and, as your condition improves, eating low-fiber foods. You may drink water, but your body also needs to replace the sugar, sodium, and potassium lost during an episode of diarrhea. Fluids that can replenish these substances include sports drinks, weak tea, chicken and beef broth, flat sodas, fruit juices and drinks (but not prune juice), gelatin, and popsicles. Do not drink milk, coffee or any other caffeinated drinks, or alcoholic beverages while you are recovering from diarrhea. Sip liquids in small amounts for the first few hours of a diarrhea episode, and then drink as much as you can. You should try to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water and other liquids a day. As you start to recover, gradually add soft, bland foods to your diet. Avoid milk products and foods that are greasy, high in fiber, highly seasoned, or very sweet. Good choices include bananas, plain rice, boiled potatoes, eggs, unbuttered toast, crackers, cooked carrots, and baked chicken without skin or fat.
Treatment for children is similar, but there are a few important differences.
Young children should not have sodas, fruit juices, or sports drinks. Instead, you may give them commercial rehydration products, such as Pedialyte or Enfalyte, which are available without a prescription at most grocery stores and pharmacies. Do not try to mix an oral rehydration solution at home; it is difficult to get the right balance of sugar, potassium, salt, and other elements intended to restore fluid. Older children may drink water, diluted juices, or sports beverages.
Older children and young children who eat solid food should follow the BRAT diet while recovering from diarrhea. BRAT stands for bananas, rice (or other starchy food), applesauce, and toast. Cut back on sweets and fats, or avoid serving them completely, until your child is fully recovered. Food should not be given to children who have been vomiting. After a few hours, if vomiting has stopped, your child may have small amounts of food that will not cause further stomach upset.
Continue to breast-feed infants. If your infant uses formula, you may need to temporarily switch to a soy-based product or consult your doctor about diluting the formula with water.
Treatment for chronic diarrhea is based on its cause. If diarrhea is caused by an infection, you may be given antibiotics. If the condition is not caused by an infection, your doctor will need to identify the cause and determine appropriate treatment measures. In all cases, you should drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. Ask your provider whether these liquids should include one of the commercial oral rehydration solutions. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.
Alternative medicine therapies for diarrhea include herbal medicine. Herbs that contain the alkaloid substance berberine may be useful in treating diarrhea. These herbs include golden seal, barberry, and Oregon grape. Extracts of these plants have been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for several thousand years. Other herbs that may ease the symptoms of diarrhea include chamomile, which can reduce intestinal cramping when taken as tea, and marshmallow root and slippery elm, which can help reduce irritation to the walls of the intestinal tract.
Homeopathy, a system of healing in which patients are treated with diluted amounts of the same substance that causes their sickness or disease, may also be helpful. After observing and questioning the patient, the homeopathic practitioner will identify a substance that produces the same symptoms in a healthy person and will prescribe an extremely diluted solution of that substance.
Acupuncture, aromatherapy, meditation, and yoga may also be beneficial. The World Health Organization has recognized the role of acupuncture and traditional Asian medicine in treating chronic diarrhea. Meditation and yoga may help reduce stress, which can aggravate diarrhea. In aromatherapy, diluted essential oils massaged into the skin may be helpful.
If you have a colostomy or you had some type of surgery on your stomach or the intestine and you develop diarrhea, consult your doctor before taking any medication.
Most cases of simple diarrhea resolve without treatment in a few days or a week. Recovery from chronic diarrhea depends on the success of treatment for the underlying cause. You should contact your doctor if diarrhea lasts for more than three days. Also contact your doctor if you experience severe pain in the abdomen or rectum; have a fever of 102°F (39°C) or higher; notice blood, mucus, or worms in your stool; or have symptoms of dehydration. Recurrent episodes of diarrhea in adults or children also warrant consultation with your provider. Cases of traveler's diarrhea usually resolve after a few days, although they may recur during long trips abroad.
Since most cases of mild diarrhea are treated at home, there is no need for any follow-up care.
If you or your child is being treated for chronic diarrhea caused by a disease or other medical condition, follow the provider's recommendations for further evaluation.
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