Diarrhea: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Picture of the intestines

Diarrhea is loose, watery stools (bowel movements). The exact cause of diarrhea is often hard to find. Sometimes diarrhea is your body's way to get rid of what caused an upset stomach. Viruses, a food-borne illness, and many medicines can cause diarrhea. Some people get diarrhea in response to emotional stress, anxiety, or certain foods.

Almost everyone has diarrhea now and then. It usually isn't serious, and your stools will return to normal soon. The important thing to do is replace the fluids you have lost, so you can prevent dehydration.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Watch for signs of dehydration, which means your body has lost too much water. Dehydration is a serious condition and should be treated right away. Signs of dehydration are:
    • Increasing thirst and dry eyes and mouth.
    • Feeling faint or light-headed.
    • Darker urine, and a smaller amount of urine than normal.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Begin eating small amounts of mild foods the next day, if you feel like it.
    • Try yogurt that has live cultures of Lactobacillus (check the label).
    • Avoid spicy foods, fruits, alcohol, and caffeine until 48 hours after all symptoms go away.
    • Avoid chewing gum that contains sorbitol.
    • Avoid dairy products (except for yogurt with Lactobacillus) while you have diarrhea and for 3 days after symptoms go away.
  • The doctor may recommend that you take over-the-counter medicine, such as loperamide (Imodium), if you still have diarrhea after 6 hours. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not use this medicine if you have bloody diarrhea, a high fever, or other signs of serious illness. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • Your stools are maroon or very bloody.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • Your stools are black and look like tar, or they have streaks of blood.
  • You have new or worsening belly pain.
  • You have symptoms of dehydration, such as:
    • Dry eyes and a dry mouth.
    • Passing only a little dark urine.
    • Feeling thirstier than usual.
  • You have a new or higher fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your diarrhea is getting worse.
  • You see pus in the diarrhea.
  • You are not getting better after 2 days (48 hours).

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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