Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. If you have persistent diarrhea, your doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in the digestive system (gastroenterologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses, recent life changes or travel.
- Make a list of all medications, as well as any vitamins or supplements, that you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help make the most of your visit. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For diarrhea, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is likely causing my diarrhea?
- Are there other possible causes for my diarrhea?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- Is my diarrhea likely temporary or chronic?
- What is the best course of action?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing me?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
- Could the diarrhea be caused by a medication I'm taking?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you begin experiencing your symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Do you have diarrhea that awakens you from sleep?
- Do you see blood, or are your bowel movements black in color?
- Do you have a fever?
- Have you recently traveled to a developing country or someplace where the food or water may not have been safe?
- Are you currently taking antibiotics?
- Have you taken antibiotics in the last few months?
- Have you recently been around anyone who has diarrhea?
- Have you recently stayed in a hospital?
What you can do in the meantime
While you wait for your appointment, you may ease your symptoms if you:
June 11, 2013
- Drink more fluids. To help avoid dehydration, drink water, juice and broth.
- Avoid foods that can aggravate diarrhea. Avoid fatty, high-fiber or highly seasoned foods.
- Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4160-6189-2..X0001-7--TOP&isbn=978-1-4160-6189-2&about=true&uniqId=229935664-2192. Accessed May 7, 2013.
- Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/diarrhea. Accessed May 7, 2013.
- Understanding food allergies and intolerances. American Gastroenterological Association. http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/diet-medications/food-allergies-fructose-intolerance-and-lactose-intolerance. Accessed May 7, 2013.
- Ochoa B, et al. Diarrheal diseases — acute and chronic. American College of Gastroenterology. http://patients.gi.org/topics/diarrhea-acute-and-chronic/#tabs2. Accessed May 7, 2013.
- Nutrition therapy for diarrhea. ADA Nutrition Care Manual. http://nutritioncaremanual.org/index.cfm. Accessed May 7, 2013.
- Sartor RB. Probiotics for gastrointestinal diseases. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 7, 2013.
- Wash your hands. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HandWashing. Accessed May 7, 2013.
- Basics for handling food safely. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Basics_for_Handling_Food_Safely/index.asp. Accessed May 7, 2013.