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Diarrhea: Common Triggers and Treatments

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Coping With Short-Term Diarrhea

For a mild case, the best diarrhea treatment is a couple of days on the couch -- letting it run its course, so to speak. Over-the-counter remedies may help, like Pepto-Bismol, Imodium A-D, and Kaopectate.  

Doctors also advise drinking lots of fluids to prevent dehydration:

  • Fruit juice (without pulp), chicken broth (without fat), soda (non-caffeinated), tea with honey, and sports drinks.
  • Sip small amounts frequently between meals -- not with meals.

Dark chocolate may even help tame diarrhea. The Aztecs and Mayans knew this, and a handful of 21st century researchers have figured out how it works, writes Alan Greene, MD, a WebMD expert commentator from DrGreene.com.

In some types of diarrhea (like that caused by E. coli), the intestines actively secrete fluids into the loose stools, leading to watery diarrhea, he explains. A protein called CFTR regulates this fluid secretion into the intestines.

A group of German researchers have found that flavonoids in cocoa target CFTR and can help turn off the faucet. A cup of cocoa -- whether in food or drink -- has enough of these flavonoids to do the trick, Greene says.

Finding Answers for Chronic Diarrhea

With chronic diarrhea, the treatment depends on what's causing the problem, says Aserkoff. "Some people do better on certain diets. Some need medicines." Among the diarrhea treatments for people with IBS:

  • Antidiarrheal medications like Imodium and Kaopectate. 
  • Bulking agents like psyllium, wheat bran, and corn fiber that help slow movement of food through the digestive system.

Because specific foods often trigger episodes of diarrhea, it will be necessary to determine if that's a possibility for you -- then cut them from your diet. Keeping a food journal can help narrow down the suspects.

Possible culprits include: Red peppers, green onions, red wine, wheat, rye, barley, and cow's milk. (If you must eliminate dairy from your diet, you can get calcium from other sources, like broccoli, spinach, tofu, salmon with bones, calcium-fortified juices, calcium supplements, antacids).

Lifestyle changes can also help tame bouts of what feels like constant diarrhea:

  • Kicking the caffeine habit (coffee, tea, and soda).
  • Boosting the fiber in your diet (fruits, veggies, grains, nuts).
  • Drinking at least three or four glasses of water daily.

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