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Chemotherapy Side Effects: Diarrhea

How to Manage Diarrhea


Updated June 09, 2014

Diarrhea can be a side effect of chemotherapy. It can cause skin irritation, stomach pain and cramping, and loss of appetite. Chemotherapy-induced diarrhea is caused by chemotherapy drugs affecting the lining of the intestine. Diarrhea during cancer treatment can also occur because of stress, anxiety, malnutrition, or surgery to the bowel or colon.

Tips for Avoiding and Managing Diarrhea

  • Drink beverages at room temperature.Extremely hot or cold beverages may upset the stomach.
  • Avoid greasy, fatty foods.Fried, fatty or greasy foods are very heavy on the stomach and can cause diarrhea.
  • Drink 8-10 glasses of clear liquids. Clear liquids don't have to be boring. Jell-O, water, broths, and sports drinks are all excellent examples of clear liquids.
  • Avoid foods that cause gas.Foods and drinks like carbonated beverages, beans, and cabbage. If you must have carbonated drinks, allow the "fizz" to go down before drinking.
  • Avoid dairy. If milk and other dairy products worsen or cause diarrhea, avoid them.
  • Eat foods low in fiber.You don't want to stimulate the bowel. The goal is to still be able to eat small amounts without overexerting the bowel. Try eating bananas, rice, white meat chicken and white bread in small amounts.

Medications for Diarrhea

Over-the-Counter Diarrhea Medications
When being treated for cancer, it is essential to ask your physician before using any meds - including over the counter. There are several OTC medications for diarrhea, like Pepto Bismol, Immodium, and Maalox.

Herbal teas are available, but you must run by any herbal supplements or teas with your doctor before use.

Prescription Medication for Diarrhea

The most common prescription drug used to combat chemotherapy induced diarrhea is Diphenoxylate, or Lomotil by it's trade name.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if you experience black, bloody, or tar like stools, moderate to severe bloating and cramping, dizziness, and a fever of 100.5 or more.

Reference: The American Cancer Society: Chemotherapy Side Effects
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