The urge to go to the toilet, stomach pain, and the flatulence that often accompanies diarrhoea are uncomfortable symptoms that can be associated with intestinal infections, food intolerances, or even certain illnesses.
This condition can ruin an afternoon with your friends, a business meeting, or even a romantic date. Who wouldn’t want a solution to put a stop to it? We will tell you exactly what to do!
- Diarrhoea is defined as an increase in bowel movements of more than three per day, which may be liquid or pasty in consistency and accompanied by other gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Diarrhoea often resolves on its own. However, it can be related to intestinal infections or certain diseases that require medical assistance.
- Several methods are available to reduce the length of time of a diarrhoeal episode, or even to stop it entirely. That being said, prevention remains the most important.
Everything You Should Know About Stopping Diarrhoea
Diarrhoea is known as a symptom (not a disease) that can affect us at any time in our lives, especially if we ingest contaminated food or water.
There are different ways to stop diarrhoea so you can continue to enjoy your activities. Here is a table with the most common methods:
|Treatments to stop diarrhoea||Indications||Contraindications|
|Anti-diarrhoeal medication||To stop diarrhoea in case of emergency (if you can’t stay home)||Diarrhoea with warning signs|
Individuals with heart conditions
|Antibiotics||For bacterial diarrhoea only||Non-bacterial diarrhoea (they may worsen it)|
|Probiotics||Diarrhoea caused by antibiotics or chronic diarrhoea (irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease)||Individuals with low defences|
|Anti-diarrhoeal foods||They can be taken during any type of diarrhoea||Food intolerances|
Diarrhoea usually clears up on its own within a few days. If you stay hydrated and avoid consuming heavy or sugary foods, you could be back on your feet in no time (1).
But what happens if you simply can’t stay at home? This is where anti-diarrhoeal drugs come to your rescue! The most important ones are (2):
- Loperamide: it is recommended to take it after diarrhoeal bowel movements without exceeding the recommended daily dose. You can find it under brand names such as “Imodium”. You must consult your doctor before taking this medication if you have heart problems (3).
- Bismuth subsalicylate: this drug prevents the fluids in your body from mixing with your stool, thus preventing prolonged diarrhoea. You can find it in pharmacies under names like Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate.
While these drugs are available over the counter, you should always use them with some precautions. If you are taking any medication or are allergic to ingredients that may be in these formulas, please ask your doctor or pharmacist to guide you in choosing the most suitable product.
In addition, keep in mind that these drugs are not intended to cure diarrhoea; you may be ignoring important signs and symptoms that require immediate medical attention.
Warning Signs During Diarrhoea
If you show any of the following warning signs, please consult your general practitioner as soon as possible or go to the nearest health centre (4):
- Signs of dehydration (your mouth is dry and you are very thirsty, you have not urinated for a while or your urine is very concentrated) (5)
- Diarrhoea lasting more than two days (or more than 24 hours in children)
- Intense pain in the abdomen or rectum
- Stools with blood or pus
- Black or “tar-like” stools
- Fever over 38.8 °C
Antibiotics are specifically designed to kill bacteria. Since diarrhoea is most often viral, antibiotics could make it worse by killing the good intestinal bacteria that protect you.
That being said, a specific type of severe diarrhoea known as dysentery is caused by bacteria such as Escherichia coli (mainly enteropathogenic), Campylobacter, Shigella, and Salmonella (6), and thus requires treatment with antibiotics.
The primary symptoms of dysentery are fever and bloody diarrhoea. These warning signs require immediate medical attention.
Probiotics are over-the-counter supplements containing microorganisms similar to those living in a healthy intestine. Their purpose is to repopulate the intestinal flora with the good bacteria and fungi that can help you fight infections (7).
In that regard, they should be used only for the treatment of diarrhoea in cases where your intestinal flora is out of balance. This includes diarrhoea caused by antibiotics or other chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and food intolerances such as lactose or gluten intolerance (8, 9).
Here are some key points to help you pick the right probiotics (10):
- Be sure to choose probiotics that contain from one hundred million to one billion colony-forming units (CFUs);
- Read carefully the instructions for storing your probiotics. Those that require refrigeration should not be kept in hot places such as your car or kitchen for extended periods of time;
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Some probiotics must be ingested with food;
- If you can, opt for probiotics that withstand adverse conditions such as stomach acids or that can be stored outside the refrigerator.
Our diet can play a significant role in the duration of diarrhoea. If you want to help your gut get rid of symptoms much faster, you can help it with simple foods that are not too spicy or fatty. These include (11):
- Plain white rice
- Bread or toast (to be avoided if you are gluten intolerant)
- Boiled potatoes
- Bananas (the less ripe, the better)
- Chicken breasts
- Breast milk for breastfed babies (12)
On the other hand, certain foods can prolong or even worsen diarrhoea. This is why you should try to avoid the following products at all costs:
- Dairy products (except yoghurt)
- Very fatty foods (such as fried foods)
- Spicy food
- Whole grains
- Sugared drinks (juices, fizzy drinks)
- Citrus fruits
Key Tips to Prevent Diarrhoea
Certain important decisions in your everyday life can make the difference between enjoying your holiday to the fullest and spending it locked up in your bathroom or the emergency department. We have put together the most important tips to help you avoid being caught off guard by diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea is often caused by bacteria found in human faeces. If they get into your water or food, or on your hands or eating utensils, you may swallow them and get diarrhoea (13).
In many cases, the prevalence of diarrhoea has been reduced by up to 50% in adults and children who adopt sound hygiene practices (14, 15):
- Drinking clean water;
- Handwashing with soap after using the toilet and before handling food;
- Eating properly preserved foods from reliable sources and that have not passed their expiration date.
Preventing Diarrhoea in Children and Babies
According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, around two million children under the age of five die every year worldwide from diarrhoea. This is not only due to more severe symptoms, but also because they are more likely to suffer from recurrent diarrhoea (16).
As such, it is imperative that we, as their guardians, do everything in our power to prevent diarrhoea from having serious consequences on their health. To do so, start by following the three pillars of prevention:
Despite the UK’s very good hygiene measures and few cases of diarrhoea caused by bacteria in children, those caused by viruses are still widespread and could be life-threatening.
Today, the best measure to prevent diarrhoea is the rotavirus vaccine available under the names Rotarix or RotaTeq. It is administered orally (no injection needed) around the second month of life (17).
According to UNICEF, it is very rare for a baby who is exclusively breastfed to suffer from diarrhoea, as this nutritious, hydrating, and clean food will provide antibodies to protect them (18).
In addition, don’t forget to follow the general hygiene recommendations when choosing and preparing food for children. You should also wash your hands before breastfeeding.
Children are like little sponges that absorb knowledge much faster than we might expect. This is why we should teach them good hygiene practices at home every day, guiding them from an early age so that they can put them into practice themselves.
The most important step is to start setting guidelines for handwashing with soap, teaching them to clean their palms, backs, fingers, and under their nails. You should also explain when to do this (after playing, going to the bathroom, or before eating).
You can place a stool in your bathroom for them to reach the sink, and leave drawings that illustrate how to wash your hands step by step.
Preventing Travellers’ Diarrhoea
According to the WHO’s Zurich Collaborating Centre on Travel and Health, between 30 and 40% of travellers could suffer from diarrhoea during their travels.
Diarrhoea may be caused by the stress of travel, a change in diet, or the consumption of food and/or drink containing bacteria, viruses and, parasites that typically do not affect native populations who have become accustomed to these microorganisms (19).
The best way to prevent this type of diarrhoea is to follow some general guidelines during your trip (20):
- Always drink bottled and sealed beverages;
- Do not consume drinks with ice;
- Avoid swallowing water while showering or bathing in pools;
- If you do not have bottled water available, purify the water by boiling it for 10 minutes or using water purification tablets;
- Avoid eating salads and raw vegetables (especially if you have not washed and prepared them yourself);
- Do not eat street food.
Diarrhoea can spoil great moments in our lives, which is why knowing how to put an end to it effectively is so important. However, you need to know which type of diarrhoea can be treated with anti-diarrhoeal drugs, and which require immediate medical attention.
If you want to beat diarrhoea, it is essential that you prevent it through good personal hygiene, which must be learnt from an early age. That way, you can avoid unpleasant moments caused by this uncomfortable symptom and possible complications to your health.
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