Digestive health and the elderly: Diarrhea – Part 2

Diarrhea is an unpleasant, painful, and sometimes life threatening condition. It is important to know how to treat this common condition and to know when to seek medical attention.

How can diarrhea be treated?

The most important thing to remember when taking care of a person who has diarrhea is to keep them hydrated. The patient should drink at least eight cups of water per day and twelve cups of water per day if he or she is running a fever. Water is easily digested and will keep the person hydrated; however, it is also helpful for the patient to drink something that will replace the electrolytes. This can be accomplished with an over the counter electrolyte replacement such as Pedialyte.

To relieve symptoms it may be best to alter the person’s diet. A BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) is helpful; however, the point is to reduce the amount of fiber, protein, and fat consumed. Over the counter medications such as Imodium or Pepto Bismol will also help to relieve symptoms, however, if a person’s body is trying to get rid of bacteria this may not be the best solution.

When should I seek medical attention?

Medical attention should be sought anytime a person’s condition meets any one of the following conditions: diarrhea accompanied with a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, diarrhea that has lasted more than two days, bloody or black stool, dehydration or the inability to keep fluids down, severe abdominal or rectal pain, or acute diarrhea (three or more stools in 24 hours) in any person 70 years or older.

Dehydration, one of the biggest risks with diarrhea, can be identified by little or no urine, dark urine, excessive thirst, dry skin, dry mouth, or lightheadedness or dizziness.

What information will the doctor need to help identify the cause of and appropriately treat the diarrhea?

The doctor will need to know:

  • How long the person has had diarrhea
  • If the diarrhea comes and goes
  • What the diarrhea looks like – oily, black, or watery
  • Location of any recent travels
  • How the body reacts to different types of food

·         What current medications are being taken

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