You probably don’t talk about it much. But if you tend to get diarrhea often, it can get to you.
Many people get at least one short-term bout of diarrhea every year, whether from an infection or other cause. For some people, though, it keeps happening. No matter what the cause -- a gut condition, a food that you’re allergic or sensitive to, or something else -- you can take steps to manage it.
1. Take the first step.
Before you can fix the problem, try to figure out the underlying cause. If you get diarrhea on a regular or even semi-regular basis, then it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor, “especially if it’s a new symptom, you’ve also noticed blood in your stool, you’ve lost a lot of weight, or you have another underlying condition like diabetes,” says Niki Strealy, RDN, author of The Diarrhea Dietitian.
It could be something minor, like a food that disagrees with you, or it may be a sign of a more serious medical problem that can get better with treatment.
2. Track your habits.
Keep a daily journal of both your bowel habits and your eating habits. “There are apps that you can use to track the information, or you can make a spreadsheet or just write it in a notebook,” Strealy says. “It helps people notice patterns.”
For example, if you find that your symptoms tend to be better or worse on the weekends than during the workweek, you can take a look at what you do differently on those days, whether it’s the amount of alcohol you drink, the kinds of foods you eat, or the amount of sleep that you get.
3. Plan meals strategically.
“People who have chronic diarrhea are often afraid of social situations,” says gastroenterologist Anish Sheth, MD, author of What’s Your Poo Telling You? “There is something to be said for avoiding large meals before social functions or work-related obligations.”
When you do go out, “don’t feel obligated to eat whatever everyone else is eating,” Sheth says. “Instead, stick with your safe foods, so to speak, which you know aren’t going to bother you.”
4. Check your diet.
A food diary can also help you pinpoint whether certain foods might be the culprit.
“Sometimes it’s very obvious which foods you should be avoiding, but other times you might be surprised,” Sheth says.
Some of the most common ones: dairy (particularly for people who are lactose intolerant), fatty foods, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, fructose, and gluten.
The amount of food matters, too. “You might be totally fine having a half cup of dairy, but not a whole cup,” Strealy says.
5. Go for probiotics.
Scientists are learning more and more about the “good” bacteria that live inside your digestive tract and how they relate to gut health. Certain strains of probiotics can improve symptoms in people with short-term diarrhea, as well as those who have diarrhea because of medical conditions like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
“Broadly speaking, they are helpful in a majority of cases,” Sheth says. Try a probiotic supplement that has several different strains. If you still have diarrhea, see a health professional. He may recommend that you try another brand that contains different strains, Strealy suggests. “In a few years, we might be at the point where we’re able to prescribe specific probiotics for your particular microbiome, but for now it can require a bit of trial and error,” she says.
6. Find ways to de-stress.
Your brain and your gut are closely connected. Stress, anxiety, or depression can make symptoms like diarrhea worse.
Look for ways to relax, whether it’s meditation, exercise, or doing calm breathing exercises.
“We know that there’s a huge connection between the brain and the gut,” Strealy says. Try to make that link work in your favor.
7. Be prepared.
It’s more than just a Boy Scout motto. It’s a way to help you feel more confident in those situations when you do start to worry about the location of the nearest toilet.
Having a bathroom kit on hand, whether it’s stashed in your desk at work or in the trunk of your car, can help you avoid stress and embarrassment if diarrhea strikes in a bad place.
You might include an extra pair of clothes and underwear, a packet of wipes, and a protective barrier ointment such as Caladrox, Calmoseptine, or Risamine. If you use medicine to help manage your diarrhea, you’ll want to bring that, too.
8. Stay hydrated.
With diarrhea, it’s easy to get dehydrated.
“Make sure you’re replacing electrolytes, specifically sodium and potassium,” Strealy says. Electrolyte rehydration powders such as Ceralyte, Drip Drop, and H2ORs can be helpful in treating dehydration. “You can just keep the packets at home, in your desk, or in your car, and mix them in with water,” Strealy says. Check the label and follow the directions on how to take them.