Diarrhea (Loose stools)

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is passing loose, watery stools (bowel movements) three or more times a day. Acute diarrhea lasts for a short time. It is a common problem. It usually lasts about one or two days, but it may last longer. Then it goes away on its own.

Diarrhea lasting more than a few days may be a sign of a more serious problem. Chronic diarrhea lasts at least four weeks. It can be a symptom of chronic disease.

How bad is my diarrhea?

Baseline is your usual number of stools every day.

Mild: Three to four stools per day or mild increase in ostomy output compared to baseline.

Moderate: Increase of 4 – 6 stools per day over baseline; or moderate increase in ostomy output compared to baseline. Diarrhea that limits instrumental activities of daily living (preparing meals, managing money, shopping, doing housework, and using a telephone). It can sometimes be safely managed at home but may require the attention of your medical team.

Severe: Increase of 6-7 stools per day over baseline, or a severe increase in ostomy output compared to baseline. Diarrhea that limits self-care activities of daily life (eating, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet). Hospitalization is typically indicated.

How to manage mild diarrhea?

Keep track of your stool frequency using Ankr (myAnkr web portal or the Ankr app). It will help you describe the symptoms to your doctor or nurse.

  • Use only bottled or purified water for drinking, making ice cubes, and brushing your teeth.
  • If you do use tap water, boil it or use iodine tablets.
  • Consume fully cooked food and serve it hot
  • Avoid unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables
How to manage moderate and severe diarrhea?

Although it is usually not harmful, diarrhea can become dangerous or signal a more serious problem. Contact your health care provider if you have:

  • Signs of dehydration
  • If lasts for more than 2 days, if you are an adult
  • Severe pain in your abdomen or rectum (for adults)
  • A fever of 102 degrees or higher
  • Stools containing blood or pus
  • Stools that are black and tarry
What causes diarrhea?
  • Certain cancer treatments like chemotherapies (like cisplatin, 5-FU etc); immunotherapies (like Keytruda or Opdivo), or radiation
  • Antibiotics and antacids that contain magnesium
  • Food intolerances and sensitivities, which are problems digesting certain ingredients or foods. An example is lactose intolerance.
  • Bacteria from contaminated food or water
  • Viruses such as the flunorovirus, or rotavirus
  • Parasites or tiny organisms found in contaminated food or water
  • Diseases that affect the stomach, small intestine, or colon, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Problems with how the colon functions, such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • Stomach surgery

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