You know you have diarrhea when you have frequent bowel movements that are soft, loose or watery. Diarrhea can result from chemotherapy treatments, colon surgery and radiation treatment, or because of your diet. If you are experiencing diarrhea, tell your doctor.

Medications can be prescribed and other strategies can help. Before beginning chemotherapy, get a sense of your current pattern of daily stools—number and consistency—to use as a baseline. If you have an ostomy, note the consistency and amount of daily output.

Complicated Diarrhea

Symptoms of complicated diarrhea, common with irinotecan (Camptosar®) treatment, include:

  • seven or more loose or watery stools a day
  • abdominal cramping
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever
  • bleeding
  • dehydration
  • feel weak or dizzy when you stand

Abdominal cramping is an early sign that diarrhea is complicated and needs aggressive treatment, requiring you to contact your doctor immediately. Also, if diarrhea doesn’t improve after 24 to 48 hours or gets worse, it is very important to contact your doctor.

Tips for Managing Diarrhea

  • Sip warm liquids slowly throughout the day. Avoid large quantities at once, and sugary beverages.
  • Try plain broth, decaf coffee or tea and water
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Eat small, frequent meals and snacks to avoid giving your digestive tract too much food at once. Lie down immediately after eating.
  • Discuss anti-diarrhea medications with your doctor. Imodium or other anti-diarrheal medications may help
  • Discuss your diet with a Registered Dietitian (RD) who can help determine what foods you may want to avoid
  • Tell your RD if you are taking herbs or dietary supplements. Some can cause diarrhea.
  • A fiber supplement like Metamucil can be very helpful
  • Snack on dry, salty foods, such as saltine crackers or dry toast
  • Avoid hard-to-digest foods, like popcorn, peas, corn, raw vegetables, and “gassy” vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, leeks, etc.)
  • Eat well-cooked, peeled fruits and vegetables or consider adding them to soups or smoothies to break down the insoluble fiber for easy digestion
  • Avoid spicy foods, greasy foods and foods high in sugar
  • Eat yogurt with live active cultures – avoid other dairy products
  • Eat more foods with soluble fiber, like oatmeal or oat bran, bananas, applesauce, and canned fruit (avoid beans since they cause gas and worsen symptoms)

Content medically-reviewed by members of the Fight Colorectal Cancer Medical Advisory Board, February 2014