Diarrhea

What is diarrhea?

What are the reasons for having diarrhea?

How serious is diarrhea?

Signs of diarrhea

When to call for help:

Other symptoms should tell your doctor about

How to manage diarrhea - what you should and should not do

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the rapid passage of stool through the intestines. Some people refer to diarrhea as “the runs”, loose BMs, “problems with my bowels” and loose stools. Anyone can have mild to severe diarrhea.

What are the reasons for having diarrhea?

  • Bacterial or viral infection
  • Medication side effects
  • Chemotherapy and radiation side effects
  • Food and drink side effects
  • Vitamins, minerals and sugar
  • Blocked intestines by the cancer
  • Bowel surgery
  • Stress and anxiety

How serious is diarrhea?

Diarrhea can result in not getting enough water or food. If left untreated it can be serious to your body and to your health.

Signs of diarrhea:

  • Loose or watery stools (bowel movements) three or more times daily
  • Abdominal cramps, pain, bloating
  • Uncontrollable urges to go to the bathroom
  • Sore skin in the anal area, from frequent movements
  • Dehydration and fatigue, from excess water loss

When should I call for help?

Use the following guide to help you decide what to do when you have diarrhea.

Mild Diarrhea - Call Telephone Triage Nurse or family doctor

If you are experiencing these symptoms, call the Telephone Triage Nurse between 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. at 519-685-8600 and press ‘3’. You may also call your family doctor.

Symptoms:

  • Less than 4 bowel movements a day
    • Colostomy - less than 4 bowel movements a day
    • Ileostomy - 1000mL or 4-6 pouch empties a day
  • Bowel movement is mushy and watery with bits of food
  • Some night time bowel movements that are controlled
  • Some cramping
  • Able to eat and drink
  • Some nausea
  • Able to urinate
  • Urine colour light yellow

Moderate Diarrhea - Seek medical attention within the next 24 hours

Seek medical attention within the next 24 hours if you get these symptoms. You can ask the Telephone Triage Nurse to make an appointment for you, or you can make an appointment with your family doctor.

To reach the Telephone Triage Nurse, call between 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. at 519-685-8600 and press ‘3’.

Symptoms:

  • Between 4-7 bowel movements a day
    • Colostomy - between 4-7 bowel movements a day
    • Ileostomy - 1500mL or 6-9 pouch empties a day
  • Bowel movement is watery with bits of food
  • Accidental bowel movement during the day or night Increased cramping
  • Eating less food and drink, lower appetite
  • Frequent nausea Frequent vomiting
  • Dry mouth and feeling thirsty
  • Less able to urinate
  • Urine colour is dark yellow or orange
  • Skin around the anus is sore.

Severe - Go to the nearest hospital emergency. Get immediate medical attention.

The following symptoms indicate severe diarrhea. Go to the nearest hospital Emergency Department and get immediate medical attention.

Symptoms:

  • More than 7 bowel movements a day
    • Colostomy - more than 7 bowel movements a day
    • Ileostomy - 2000mL or more than 10 pouch empties a day
  • Bowel movement is watery only
  • No control of bowel movements
  • Constant cramping
  • Cannot eat or drink, no appetite
  • Constant nausea
  • Constant vomiting
  • Dizziness, lightheaded
  • Difficult to urinate
  • Urine colour is dark orange or brown
  • Bloody bowel movements
  • Sudden abdominal bloating
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Skin around the anus is bloody
  • Skin feels very warm
  • Fever greater than 38°C or 100°F

Other symptoms you should tell your doctor about:

  • Weight loss of 5 or more pounds
  • Blood in the anal canal or stools
  • Abdominal cramps or pain for 2 or more days
  • Inability to drink fluids for more than 2 days
  • Sudden bloating of the abdomen
  • Diarrhea after several days of constipation

 

How to manage diarrhea

What you should do:

  • Eat foods high in protein, calories, and potassium, such as cottage cheese, eggs, baked potatoes, cooked cereals and rice, pasta, white toast, bananas, or peanut butter
  • Drink 8-12 glasses of clear fluids each day, such as water, juice, and low sodium soup
  • Eat small meals more often
  • Rest when you are tired
  • Keep the anal area clean and dry
  • Take medicines for diarrhea, as ordered by your doctor

What you should not do:

  • Eat high fibre foods, like whole grain breads, high fibre cereals, and bran
  • Eat fried or greasy foods
  • Eat skins or seeds from fruits and vegetables
  • Eat Spicy foods
  • Have beverages with caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, cola, chocolate), alcohol (e.g. beer, wine, liquor) or carbonation (e.g. soda pop, cola)
  • Drink milk or milk products
  • Smoke

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Last Updated October 25, 2007 | © 2007, LHSC, London Ontario Canada