Treating holiday & seasonal stomach issues

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

While not a pleasant statistic, virtually everyone has had diarrhea at least once in the past two years and as unpleasant as it is to talk about there are important things that you need to know. Here to discuss what we need to know is our Pharmacist Dr. Michael White from the UConn School of Pharmacy.

There are lots of reasons why diarrhea can develop, it could be due to a virus or bacteria, a response to stress, eating too many sugary foods, eating things with laxative effects, being lactose intolerant, eating gluten if you have an allergy, or due to an inflammatory disease of the intestines.

When people get diarrhea they want to determine if this is something they need to call their doctor about. Dehydration and electrolyte depletion can be serious business leading to low blood pressure, arrhythmias, or even death. Try to identify why you think you have diarrhea. Was it due to something that you and others ate or drank, were you under a lot of stress, or was it due to another reason? If it happens due to stress, lactose intolerance, or food allergy, than at least you know that it will likely resolve and that is can be managed. If the entire family has come down with it at the same time, it may be due to tainted food or something contagious. If it is happening a number of times a month, it may be due to a chronic inflammatory disorder or irritable bowel syndrome. People with a fever, diarrhea in adults lasting 3 days, diarrhea in children lasting more than 1 day, or diarrhea in anyone under 3 months of age, people with blood or mucus in the stool, people with black stools, or the people losing more fluids than can be replaced by drinking need to call their doctor right away.

Diarrhea is not caused by having too much water in the body. The water you drink is absorbed in the upper part of the intestine and the liquid from your cells is later lost into the lower part of the intestine due to irritation, infection, or inflammation so not drinking doesn’t stop diarrhea, just cause dehydration. Water, chicken broth, or in children or the elderly Pedialyte or electrolyte enhanced water are the best liquids to use and people should drink more liquid than they are losing. There are two over the counter options, loperimide (Immodium®) or Kaopectate®, or Pepto-Bismol®. Loperimide slows down intestinal mobility while the other two products have a salicylate component that reduces inflammation. Do not use loperimide if you have a fever because it can cause you to retain toxins that the bad bacteria in your intestines have and can damage your intestines. Similarly, do not use Kaopectate® or Pepto Bismol® in children under the age of 12 years because it has a salicylate component which is like aspirin and aspirin can cause kids with some viral infections a disorder called Reyes Syndrome. Anyone who has had trouble breathing when they took ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen should also avoid these two products. Children’s Pepto-Bismol® does not contain salicylate and can be given to children.

Don’t eat hard to digest foods, milk, fruit juice, or high sugar liquids as this can prolong your diarrhea and might make it worse. When you get some relief and want to start eating again, Jello and BRATT foods (bananas, rice, tea, and toast) are ok to start with on day 1 and then gradually get back to normal over the next day or two.

Dr. Michael White, Department of Pharmacy Practice, University of Connecticut