Diarrhea is the frequent passage of soft or liquid bowel movements. Diarrhea can cause stomach cramps and frequent trips to the bathroom. Your doctor may determine that diarrhea is present when six or more bowel movements are passed in a day.
Diarrhea is a common side effect of some cancers and cancer treatments. For instance, chemotherapy aims to destroy fast-growing cancer cells. Yet, certain normal cells that grow quickly may also be damaged in the process, including the cells lining the intestine.
Your doctor may prescribe certain medications (e.g., Immodium, Pepto-Bismol) to control diarrhea. You may also need to make modifications to your diet. If diarrhea persists, you may need intravenous (IV) fluids to avoid dehydration.
Tips for controlling diarrhea
- Eat frequent, small meals throughout the day in a quiet, relaxed setting.
- Drink eight glass of water each day. Aside from water, try diluted fruit juices, broths, sports drinks, pasteurized apple juice, weak tea, grape juice, non-carbonated beverages, popsicles, etc.
- Drink/eat warm or room-temperature liquids and foods (never very hot or very cold).
- Drink liquids 30 minutes after meals, not during meals.
- Do not eat spicy, fried or rich foods (which are difficult to digest). Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Eat foods high in protein and calories to replace the nutrients lost through diarrhea. Examples include: eggs, asparagus, fish, tofu, white bread, cheese, peas, banana, white rice, cream soups, buttermilk, halibut, noodles, tapioca, baked potato, custard, poultry, avocado, smooth peanut butter, macaroni, applesauce, yogurt and carrots.
- Eat foods containing potassium (e.g., bananas, potatoes, diluted fruit juices, cooked vegetables), as diarrhea may also cause you to lose potassium.
- Eat foods containing sodium (salt) (e.g., broths, saltines, pretzels).
- Until you feel better, avoid high-fiber foods (e.g., whole grains, nuts, beans, raw vegetables, fruits with seeds/skins), which may increase the activity of the bowel.
- Avoid drinking milk and eating foods that are made from milk until you feel better. The lactose in the dairy products may cause diarrhea or make symptoms worse.
- Try laying down 30 minutes after meals. Rest may slow down the digestive tract.
- Ask your doctor if you should stop taking vitamin C temporarily.
- Water-soluble fiber supplements such as pectin (e.g. Sure-jell) may help form a firmer stool. Try adding Sure-jell to hot cereals, soups, or a banana smoothie with rice milk.
NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.