Research & Education
Diarrhea is unusually frequent and/or unusually liquid bowel movements. It may be caused by your cancer treatments, surgery on the stomach or intestines, infection, or emotional stress.
Long-term diarrhea may lead to dehydration (lack of water in the body), weight loss, and/or electrolyte imbalances, such as low levels of salt and potassium. Your body needs salt and potassium to function properly.
Foods to Avoid
The BRAT Diet
The BRAT diet has been promoted as a treatment of choice for diarrhea. While it can be useful for a day or two, staying on the diet for too long could cause a zinc deficiency. Zinc plays a key role in your immune system, growth, and skin development. You can meet your body’s zinc requirements by adding chicken, meat, fish, or dairy products back into your diet as soon as possible.
Sudden, Short-term Attacks
If you get a sudden, acute attack of diarrhea, do not eat anything except clear liquids* for 12-24 hours. This will give your intestines time to rest and replace the fluids you lost. If you have this problem, let your doctor or nurse know as soon as possible.
*See the list of clear liquids in the dehydration section
Neither the BRAT diet nor a clear liquid diet meets your body’s basic needs for calories or protein. Both diets are short-term tools and should not be used for more than 1-2 days without your doctor’s knowledge.
If your diarrhea lasts longer than 24 hours, make sure your doctor is aware of your symptoms and has approved any and all treatments, diets, or other measures you are using to manage the problem.
Dehydration is an excessive loss of water from your body which occurs when your body loses more fluids than you take in. Dehydration may result from excessive or long term vomiting or diarrhea, a low fluid intake, bleeding, infection, illness, or as a side effect of treatment.
Dehydration from diarrhea can result in kidney failure, neurological symptoms, arthritis, and skin problems. It may also cause confusion and disorientation. Severe dehydration leads to changes in the body's chemistry called electrolyte imbalances, which may become life-threatening. People with severe diarrhea or severe vomiting should not be left alone to care for themselves.
Early signs of dehydration may be hard to notice. Stay alert and call your doctor if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms:
Tips to Prevent Dehydration
Tips to Prevent Electrolyte Imbalance
Eat plenty of foods and liquids that contain sodium and potassium, because these minerals are often lost during diarrhea.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided this easy recipe for a home-made version of a sports drink. After preparation, drink it in small, frequent sips.
When to Call Your Doctor
Be sure to call your doctor if you notice any of the following: