This information will help you manage your diarrhea.
Diarrhea is a watery bowel movement. It can also include stomach cramps, gas, or mucous discharge from the rectum (holding area for feces). Cancer treatments and some medical conditions can cause diarrhea. If you are having diarrhea, talk with your doctor or nurse. He or she may have recommendations for you that are different than those in this resource.
If you have diarrhea twice a day or more, you may lose too much water and nutrients. You may also lose weight.
Call your doctor or nurse if you have uncontrolled diarrhea for more than 24 hours.
- You can take over-the-counter medication, such as loperamide (Imodium®), to treat your diarrhea. Your doctor may also prescribe a medication, such as diphenoxylate and atropine (Lomotil®).
- Diarrhea may irritate the area around your anus. Your doctor or nurse can suggest a moisturizer to rub on the area. Apply the moisturizer around your anus after each episode of diarrhea. You can also take sitz baths to help relieve some of the discomfort.
- Drink at least 8 to 10, 8-ounce glasses of liquids each day. This will replace the liquid your body loses from having diarrhea.
- Drink different kinds of liquids, not just plain water. Fruit juices, such as apple and cranberry, are good options. You may want to mix the fruit juices with some water before drinking.
- Drink clear soups, broths, and Gatorade®. These liquids contain salt and sugar, which can prevent you from feeling weak or lightheaded.
- Do not drink alcohol or liquids with caffeine (e.g., coffee, tea, some sodas). They can make you dehydrated.
- Drink small amounts of liquids frequently.
- Do not drink very hot liquids.
- Eat 6 or more small meals a day. Avoid large portions.
- Try drinking liquids between meals, instead of with your meals.
Foods and Liquids to Avoid
Fiber is the part of your food that does not get digested by your body. It forms the bulk that makes your stool (feces). Do not eat high-fiber foods while you have diarrhea. These foods include
- Whole-grain breads and cereals
- Raw vegetables, including lettuce
- Cooked or raw vegetables that cause gas (e.g., onion, garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli)
- Fresh and dried fruits
- Juice with pulp (e.g., prune, orange)
- Beans, peas, and corn
- Nuts, seeds, and popcorn
Eating foods with a lot of fat can make your diarrhea worse. Limit the amount of butter, margarine, oil, and salad dressing you use. Avoid the following:
- Fried foods
- Cream sauces
- High-fat deli meats
- Sausage and bacon
Foods and liquids with lactose
Lactose is a sugar that is found in milk and milk products. When your bowels (intestines) are irritated, they may not digest lactose completely. This can result in gas, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. Foods to avoid include:
- Milk (low-fat, whole, and skim)
- Cream and sour cream
- Ice cream and sherbet
Other foods to avoid
- Sugar-free and dietetic foods
- Products that contain sorbitol (a sugar alcohol)
- Sugar-free and regular chewing gum
Foods and Liquids to Include
The BRAT diet
- The BRAT diet stands for
- Bananas (B)
- Rice (R)
- Applesauce (A)
- Toast (T)
- These foods can help thicken your stool and replace the nutrients you lose from having diarrhea. Add these foods to your diet when you have diarrhea.
Meat and meat substitutes
- White-meat poultry such as chicken or turkey (with the skin removed)
- Plain baked fish
- Creamy peanut butter
- Well-cooked carrots, green beans, asparagus tips, and beets
- Baked potatoes without the skin (no fried potatoes)
Fruits and juices
- Cooked or canned fruits with the skin and seeds removed (e.g., apples, peaches, apricots, pears, fruit cocktail)
- Strained or jellied cranberry sauce without skins
- Fruit juices mixed with water and nectars without pulp (e.g., apple, grape, cranberry)
- White and Italian bread and rolls, plain bagels, English muffins
- Graham crackers
- Cold cereals (e.g., cornflakes, Corn Chex®, puffed rice, Rice Chex®, Rice Krispies®)
- Hot cereals (e.g., Cream of Rice®, Cream of Wheat®, Farina®)
- White rice
- Plain pasta without heavy sauce
- Lactose-free milk (e.g., Lactaid®, Dairy Ease®)
- Lactose-free cottage cheese or ice cream
- Plain yogurt
- Lactose-free supplements (e.g., Ensure®)
Some patients will only need to limit certain foods while they have diarrhea. Others may need a very restricted diet. If you are on a special diet or have diabetes, it may be hard for you to follow these guidelines. A dietitian or a diabetes educator at MSK can work with you. If you would like to meet with a dietitian or diabetes educator, talk with your doctor or nurse.