Avoid summer’s stomach storms

From Dr. Mariann Hegyi, FirstMed Internist

Summer’s here! It’s the time for vacations, road-trips, outdoor programs and hopefully less office work. Summertime makes you smile but it also can bring thunderstorms. These storms can be both outside in the nature or inside of you. For now let’s leave aside the complex issues of emotional storms, and as I am a doctor not a meteorologist we’ll skip speaking of the weather. Let`s instead address a topic that I know well as an Internist, or doctor of internal medicine: the intestinal storms of the stomach and diarrhea.

There are many root causes for these intestinal storms such as infections, either viral or bacterial, food intolerance, inflammatory bowel syndrome, side-effects from antibiotic treatments and many other less common causes.

What exactly qualifies as diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the condition of having at least three loose, or liquid, bowel movements in a day. Often it lasts for a few days and may result in dehydration due to fluid loss. So if you only experience one liquid or loose bowel movement in a day it is not considered diarrhea.

When should someone see a doctor?

It is best to do so when experiencing bouts of diarrhea if these conditions are also present when the patient:

  • Is either very young or very old,
  • has other chronic illnesses,
  • is accompanied with a high temperature,
  • finds blood in the stool,
  • is very weak,
  • finds it lasting for more than one week, or
  • it appears to be an outbreak in a camp or community.

Diarrhea in summer is typically caused by a viral infection, so there isn’t any need for a laboratory stool exam. The doctor will provide treatments for the symptoms but mostly the virus will need to run its course.

What can we do at home for our “safety”?

The most important thing is to keep hydrated, drinking the extra liquids to make up for what is being passed. Many people assume that taking more liquids will mean more diarrhea, believing that even one sip will mean another trip to the toilet. The effects of serious dehydration will be much worse. The body needs fluids to be replenished in order to flush the causes of diarrhea out of the system. Some foods and drinks that should be avoided are milk, carbonated drinks and soft drinks with sugar, because they will make your situation even worse.

How to restore the body

The most useful drinks for rehydration are those liquids that contain the items the body really needs, especially some lost ions. In Hungary, Normolyt powder, used to replace lost fluid and electrolyte, is only available by prescription but BioGaia ‘ProTectis Baby/Junior’ can easily be purchased in most pharmacies without one. It is not recommended to use Imodium or Loperamid to control diarrhea, as these medications decrease the movement of the intestines, thus prolonging the symptoms. I can also recommend Smecta or Hidrasec, which decrease the symptoms by knitting up the toxins to be expelled. The probiotic medicines that are officially recommended are Enterol, Progastro or BioGaiaProTectis.

The reason probiotics are called for is to reduce the duration of symptoms as well as decreasing the chances by 60% of symptoms lasting longer than four days. The probiotic lactobacillus can help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea in adults. For those who are lactose intolerant, taking digestive enzymes containing lactase often improves symptoms.

In the past, after suffering a bout with diarrhea, it was thought that you should maintain a restricted diet. Today doctors recommend just drinking more instead of staying hungry for several days. Typically, the right path back to normal is by starting with smaller portions but more frequently and sticking with those foods that are easy to digest, e.g. boiled potatoes, rice, carrots, apples, bananas, zucchini and lean meats. Also avoid fatty, or spicy, meals and milk products for at least a couple of days after diarrhea has ended. It is important to get back to a basic eating routine because the body will regenerate quicker.

My last advice: no treatment is as effective as prevention. In summer everything seems to be easier, and sometimes on vacation we fail to pay enough attention to things around us. Be attentive to proper hygiene. It is obvious to remind about hand washing, but you also need to keep in mind unwashed food and avoid those of unknown origin or that have been sitting out in the sun too long.

Summer is a great time to relax and have fun… You don’t want to be doing it indoors close to the toilet.