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Oncology: Controlling Diarrhea

Diarrhea (loose stools) is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Diarrhea results when treatment affects the normal cells lining the intestine. To help limit this problem, try the tips on this handout.

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Tips for controlling diarrhea

  • Limit the amount of fiber in your diet. Avoid high-fiber foods such as whole-grain bread and brown rice. Instead, eat white bread and rice.

  • Eat foods rich in potassium such as bananas and oranges. This can help replenish electrolytes lost due to diarrhea.

  • Eat small, frequent meals.

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Clear liquids and flat light sodas, such as ginger ale, are best. This can help replenish fluids lost due to diarrhea, and prevent dehydration.

  • Do not drink coffee, tea, or alcohol.

  • Try not to eat foods that are fried, greasy, spicy, or sweet.

  • Limit the amount of milk you drink.

Medicines can help

Ongoing diarrhea is not something you have to live with. Talk with your doctor. Medicine to stop diarrhea may be prescribed. Your doctor may also suggest using an ointment to soothe irritation. Keeping the anal area clean helps as well. Do not take any over-the-counter product without asking your doctor first.

When to see your healthcare provider

See your healthcare provider if any of the following occur:

  • The diarrhea lasts more than 48 hours.

  • There is blood in your stool.

  • You have pain in your abdomen.


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