Coping With Diarrhea Related to Chemotherapy
When chemotherapy affects the cells lining the intestine, it can cause diarrhea (watery or loose stools). If you have diarrhea that continues for more than 24 hours, or if you have pain and cramping along with the diarrhea, call your doctor. In severe cases, the doctor may prescribe a medication to control the diarrhea. If diarrhea persists, you may need IV fluids to replace the water and nutrients you have lost. Often, these fluids are given as an outpatient and do not require hospitalization. Do not take any over-the-counter medications for diarrhea without asking your doctor.
Tips to Help Control Diarrhea
Some tips that your doctor may advise include:
- Drink 8-12 cups of clear fluids a day. This will help replace fluids you have lost through diarrhea. Oral rehydration solutions (adults) or Pedialyte (children), are best. Drink slowly and make sure drinks are at room temperature. You can also try clear liquids, such as clear broth, diluted sports drinks such as Gatorade, or ginger ale. Let carbonated drinks lose their fizz before you drink them. If these drinks make you feel nauseous, try diluting them with water.
- Ask your doctor if you should try a clear liquid diet to give your bowels time to rest. A clear liquid diet does not provide all the nutrients you need, so only stay on this diet for the time advised by your doctor.
- Eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals.
Include certain foods in your diet, such as:
- Potassium-rich foods—Diarrhea can cause you to lose this important mineral. Bananas, oranges, potatoes, peach, and apricot nectars are good sources of potassium.
- Eat low-fiber foods—Low-fiber foods include white bread, white rice or noodles, creamed cereals, ripe bananas, canned or cooked fruit without skins, cottage cheese, yogurt without seeds, eggs, mashed or baked potatoes without the skin, pureed vegetables, chicken, or turkey without the skin, and fish.
Avoid certain foods or drinks, such as:
- Foods that cause gas, such as dried beans, cabbage, broccoli, and soy products
- High-fiber foods, which can lead to diarrhea and cramping. such as whole grain breads and cereals, raw vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, popcorn, fresh and dried fruit
- Milk and milk products, including ice cream
- Fried, greasy, or spicy foods
- Hot or very cold liquids
- Tea with caffeine
- To ease irritation, use moistened wipes or water to clean yourself after bowel movements
While diarrhea is a common side effect of chemotherapy, there are steps that you can take to control it. If you are not finding any relief, be sure to tell your doctor right away. In some cases, you may need to take medication or have tests done to look for an infection. Remember that your doctor and other healthcare providers are there to support you during your treatment.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Chemotherapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Accessed January 9, 2018.
Learn about chemotherapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy.html. Accessed January 9, 2018.
Last reviewed January 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardMichael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 1/5/2016