The second most-reported illness in U.S.
Q. I seem to get diarrhea more often now than I used to when I was younger. Any ideas why?
Before I offer you some general information about diarrhea, I urge you to see a doctor for a diagnosis. As I tell everyone who writes to me, I’m a journalist, not a physician.
Diarrhea is caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, certain foods, medicines and diseases. Diarrhea is a common malady that usually lasts a day or two and goes away without treatment. In the United States, it’s second only to respiratory infections in reported illnesses.
Here’s a question for you: Ever notice how often diarrhea is mentioned as a side effect in the package inserts for medicine?
Seniors often get diarrhea from medicine. This is a complex subject.
The first issue is that seniors take a lot more medicine than younger people. The average older person takes more than four prescription drugs and two over-the-counter drugs daily. The high intake of medicine increases the odds that one or more of these medicines could give you diarrhea.
Older people have more health problems, and these add to the mix of potential causes of diarrhea. Older bodies process drugs slowly so that they tend to stay in our bodies longer. And some drugs work differently on older people.
Then there are the problems of drug-drug interactions and overdoses because we take so much medicine and retain it in our systems.
Diarrhea can be much more than an inconvenience. Diarrhea causes dehydration, which can be lethal to older people. With the fluid you lose from diarrhea, you also lose salts that your body needs. Diarrhea can make a victim pass more than a quart of watery stools a day.
Dehydration symptoms include thirst, reduced urination, dark urine, dry skin, fatigue, dizziness, fainting.
You should see a doctor if your diarrhea lasts more than three days, or if you have dehydration symptoms, severe abdominal or rectal pain, a fever of 102°F or higher, or blood in your stools.
In many cases of diarrhea, the only treatment needed is replacing lost fluid and salts. Adults should consume broth, non-citrus fruit juices, flat ginger ale and ice pops.
As your condition improves, you can start eating bananas, plain rice, boiled potatoes, toast, crackers, cooked carrots. Smaller meals are recommended because they’re easier to digest.
When you have diarrhea, avoid dairy products, fat, high-fiber foods, sweets, spicy foods, carbonated beverages, chewing gum, caffeine, and any food or beverage that is hot.
It is common to get diarrhea when visiting a foreign country. It’s so common that the medical community has a name for it: traveler’s diarrhea.
The following are some tips for avoiding diarrhea away from home. Don’t:
Drink tap water.
Use ice cubes made from tap water.
Drink unpasteurized milk or dairy products made from it.
Eat raw fruits and vegetables.
Eat meat or fish unless it is well-cooked and served hot.
Eat food sold by street vendors.
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