Dr Tendai Zuze Health Matters
Diarrhoea describes loose, watery stools that occur more frequently than usual.
It is something everyone experiences and often means more frequent trips to the toilet and a greater volume of stool.
Because of the recent rains and the cholera outbreak in some places, one or two of us will inevitably get this unfortunate condition. Diarrhoea may cause a loss of significant amounts of water and salts. Most cases of diarrhoea go away without treatment.
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If you’re an adult, you need to start worrying and possibly see your doctor if:
Your diarrhoea persists beyond three days. You become dehydrated — as evidenced by excessive thirst, dry mouth or skin, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness or light-headedness, or dark-coloured urine
You have severe abdominal or rectal pain. You have bloody or black stool. You have a temperature of more than 39 C
In children, particularly young children, diarrhoea can quickly lead to dehydration which is potentially fatal.
You should get worried if a child: Hasn’t had a wet nappy in three or more hours. Has a fever of more than 39 C. Has bloody or black stools
Has a dry mouth or cries without tears. Is unusually sleepy, drowsy, unresponsive or irritable Has a sunken appearance to the abdomen, eyes or cheeks. Has lost the elasticity of their skin. The only effective treatment for dehydration is to replace lost fluids and lost electrolytes.
The best approach to dehydration treatment depends on age, the severity of dehydration and its cause. Use an oral rehydration solution. These solutions contain water and salts in specific proportions to replenish both fluids and electrolytes. They’re also designed for easier digestion.
Oral rehydration products are readily available in most pharmacies. You can even get flavoured varieties which are more palatable and more child friendly. Begin giving fluids early in the course of an illness instead of waiting until the situation becomes urgent. Where a pre-formulated solution is unavailable, you can make your own oral rehydration solution by mixing 1/2 teaspoon salt, 6 level teaspoons of sugar and 1 litre of safe drinking water. Be sure to measure accurately because incorrect amounts can make the solution less effective or even harmful.
When your child is vomiting, try giving small amounts of solution at frequent intervals — try a spoonful or so every few minutes, for instance. If your child can’t keep this down, wait 30 to 60 minutes and try again. Room temperature fluids are best. Continue to breast-feed. Don’t stop breast-feeding when your baby is sick, but offer your baby an oral rehydration solution as well. If you give your baby formula, try switching to one that’s lactose-free until diarrhoea improves — lactose can be difficult to digest during diarrhoea, making diarrhoea worse. Never dilute formula more than the instructions advice.
Avoid certain foods and drinks. The best liquid for a sick child is an oral rehydration solution — plain water doesn’t provide essential electrolytes, and although sports drinks replenish electrolytes, they replace those lost through sweating, not through diarrhoea or vomiting. Avoid giving your child fresh milk, fizzy drinks or fruit juices, which don’t relieve dehydration and which may make symptoms worse.
Antibiotics are only required in special situations which your doctor will know. They may help treat diarrhoea caused by bacteria or parasites.
Other Lifestyle and home remedies include;
Drinking plenty of clear liquids, including water, broths and juices every day. But, avoid apple and pear juices until you feel better because they can make your diarrhoea worse. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Add semi solid and low-fibre foods gradually as your bowel movements return to normal, try toast, eggs, rice or chicken.
Avoid certain foods such as dairy products, fatty foods, high-fibre foods or highly seasoned foods for a few days.
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Probiotic foods, such as yoghurt and cheese are generally safe to eat and may help. Side effects of probiotics might include gas and bloating.