Having diarrhea can be stressful. Learn more about what’s causing your symptoms and the best natural remedies for avoiding dehydration.
·October 15th, 2021
Diarrhea may last for a few hours or multiple days. It’s important to track the severity and duration of your symptoms to determine if you’re experiencing a more severe illness.
Diarrhea can be caused by a range of factors, including the food you eat, medications you take, dietary restrictions, digestive disorders, and even stress.
It’s important to keep drinking (water or rehydration solutions) and eating a simple diet when you have diarrhea to minimize your risk of dehydration.
Diarrhea is the last thing most of us want to deal with—and yet, data shows that most people experience it a few times each year.
Some people have diarrhea that lasts a few hours, while others may have symptoms that last several weeks. Though many times the cause is unknown, it’s important to know when you can manage your diarrhea from home and when you may need to see an expert.
Regardless of the cause, frequent, persistent or chronic diarrhea can lead to dehydration, or a loss of electrolytes and fluids in your body. No matter how you’re managing your symptoms, it’s important to know how to spot the signs of dehydration—and what you can do to prevent it.
How can I tell the difference between normal and acute diarrhea?
Most cases of diarrhea are mild and not cause for concern. Most likely, your symptoms will be short-lived, lasting just a few hours or at most a few days. But if your diarrhea persists, you may have persistent or chronic diarrhea.
The most common symptom of mild diarrhea is watery, loose stools and/or more frequent bowel movements. Additional symptoms can include:
Experiencing symptoms of persistent or chronic diarrhea could be a sign of a digestive disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.
When symptoms of diarrhea fail to resolve on their own, you may be at risk for complications of diarrhea, including dehydration. Symptoms of acute diarrhea can include:
Blood in stool or urine
Rapid heart rate
Lightheadedness and dizziness
Flushed, dry skin
If you experience any of the symptoms of acute diarrhea above, reach out to your provider for care.
What’s causing my diarrhea?
The most common cause of diarrhea is a viral infection (also referred to as viral gastroenteritis). But there are other conditions and factors that can cause diarrhea:
Bacteria and parasites: Though less common, parasitic or bacterial infections can cause diarrhea, and is often the cause of what’s referred to as “traveler’s diarrhea.” If you’ve recently visited a developing country or suspect you could have a bacterial or parasitic infection, reach out to your doctor for diagnosis and the correct course of treatment.
Stress: Can stress cause diarrhea? Yes, whether we realize it or not, our brain and gut are intimately connected. So if you’re under stress or anxiety, know that it can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms (and vice versa). For some, this can result in stress-related diarrhea. Effective treatment options for stress-related diarrhea include mindfulness, yoga, and regular exercise. Particularly for those with inflammatory bowel diseases stress can have a big impact on symptoms.
Medications: Started a new medication recently? Check with your provider to see if diarrhea is a possible side effect.
Diet: Lactose intolerance, artificial sweeteners, and other foods can cause diarrhea and abdominal pain in people who have trouble naturally digesting certain ingredients. Working with a nutritionist can help you to identify possible triggers and develop healthy, customized meal plans that won’t cause unwanted reactions like diarrhea.
Mild cases of diarrhea are not usually cause for concern. However, some cases of diarrhea can cause dehydration, which can be life threatening if left untreated.
Certain people are at a higher risk of dehydration, including:
How to spot the signs and symptoms of dehydration
Put simply, you can get dehydrated when you use or lose more fluid than you take in. Because diarrhea can cause your body to produce large amounts of watery stool, it’s easy to understand how severe or chronic diarrhea can put you at risk of dehydration.
And if you or your child are vomiting while having diarrhea, this can put you at higher risk of getting dehydrated. In fact, severe diarrhea and vomiting is the most common cause of dehydration in young children.
But adults can be at risk too. Here are the signs of moderate or severe dehydration in adults and children:
Urinating less frequently
Children and Infants
Dry mouth and tongue
Crying with no tears
No wet diapers for three hours
Sunken eyes and/or cheeks
Sunken soft spot on top of skull
If you or your child may be dehydrated, reach out to your provider as soon as possible.
How to avoid diarrhea-induced dehydration
Having diarrhea can make you feel out of control when it comes to your body. But the good news is, there are proactive measures you can take to ease your symptoms and avoid losing water and nutrients, which can lead to dehydration.
Here are some of the things you can do at home to help comfort your body during a bout of diarrhea and prevent dehydration:
Don’t stop eating or drinking: You may think that eating or drinking will make your diarrhea worse, but the truth is that making the right food and drink choices can actually help to ease your symptoms. Drinking plenty of fluids (that means no coffee or alcohol) and eating bland foods is a good place to start.
Make your own salty and sweet solution: Combining salt and sugar is one of the best ways to avoid dehydration. Why? Because salt works to slow down fluid loss in your body while sugar helps your body to absorb the salt. Just make sure to get the proportions right. To make your own rehydration solution, you can mix one liter of clean water with six teaspoons of sugar and one half teaspoon of salt.
Probiotics: Found in food or dietary supplements, probiotics are colonies of beneficial bacteria that can help restore balance in your gut microbiome. Taking probiotic supplements or eating foods rich in probiotics (like yogurt or kefir) can help to replace the beneficial bacteria in your gut that gets flushed out when you have diarrhea.
BRAT diet: When you have diarrhea, bland foods are best. Specifically, you can try following the BRAT diet as a treatment for diarrhea: bananas, rice (white), applesauce, and toast. These foods are low in fiber which can help to make your stools firmer.
Rehydration solutions: When in doubt, you can replenish your body’s fluids with over-the-counter (OTC) rehydration solutions, like Pedialyte® or sports drinks like Gatorade™.
When to seek help
You know your body and chances are, you know when something just isn’t right. If you’ve had diarrhea for over one day, are having trouble keeping down fluids, have black or bloody stools, or are experiencing any other worrisome symptoms, reach out to your provider for care.
If you think you may be experiencing severe diarrhea, the right provider can help you build a personalized plan to support your wellbeing. Connect with a credentialed expert who serves your area here.