This information will help you manage diarrhea.
Diarrhea is a watery or loose bowel movement, or the condition of having many bowel movements a day. 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.
Medication to Treat Diarrhea
- Your doctor may prescribe a medication, such as diphenoxylate and atropine (Lomotil®), to treat the diarrhea. Do not take any over-the-counter medications to treat diarrhea without speaking with your doctor or nurse first.
- 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 Extra Liquids
- 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 small amounts of liquids frequently.
- 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, and some sodas). They can make you dehydrated.
- 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
High-fiber foods and liquids
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, including:
- Whole-grain breads and cereals
- Raw vegetables, including lettuce
- Cooked or raw vegetables that cause gas (e.g., onions, garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli)
- Fresh and dried fruits
- Juice with pulp (e.g., prune and orange)
- Beans, peas, and corn
- Nuts, seeds, and popcorn
Eating high-fat foods can make your diarrhea worse. Limit your intake of butter, margarine, oil, and salad dressing. 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 cause gas, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. Avoid the following foods and liquids:
- 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 BRATY diet
- The BRATY diet stands for:
- Bananas (B)
- Rice (R)
- Applesauce (A)
- Toast (T)
- Yogurt (Y)
- 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
- 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
- Saltine crackers
- 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 Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) can work with you. If you would like to meet with one of them, please tell your doctor or nurse.