Understanding Chemotherapy: A Guide for Patients and Families

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Diarrhea

When chemo affects the cells lining the intestine, it can cause diarrhea. Diarrhea is most often defined as 2 or more loose stools in 4 hours. If you have diarrhea that lasts for more than 24 hours, or if you have pain and cramping along with it, call your doctor. In severe cases, the doctor may have you take an anti-diarrheal medicine, but don’t take any over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines without asking your doctor first. Some chemo drugs are known to cause diarrhea. Your doctor will give instructions on what to do if you are getting one of these drugs.

Things that may help control diarrhea:

  • Eat smaller amounts of food, but eat more often.
  • Avoid coffee, tea, alcohol, and sweets.
  • Avoid high-fiber foods, which can lead to diarrhea and cramping. High-fiber foods include whole-grain breads and cereals, raw vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, popcorn, and fresh and dried fruit.
  • Eat low-fiber foods, such as white bread, white rice or noodles, creamed cereals, ripe bananas, canned or cooked fruit without skins, cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, mashed or baked potatoes without the skin, pureed vegetables, chicken or turkey without the skin, and fish.
  • Stay away from fried, greasy, or spicy foods.
  • Avoid milk and milk products if they make your diarrhea worse.
  • Eat more potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, oranges, potatoes, and peach and apricot nectars, unless your doctor has told you otherwise.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to replace those you have lost through diarrhea. Mild, clear liquids, such as apple juice, water, clear broth, or ginger ale, are best. Make sure they are at room temperature, and drink them slowly. Let carbonated drinks lose their fizz before you drink them.

If your diarrhea is severe (meaning that you have had 7 or 8 loose stools in 24 hours), tell your doctor right away. Ask if you should try a clear-liquid diet to give your bowels time to rest. Then, as you feel better, slowly add the low-fiber foods. A clear-liquid diet doesn’t have all the nutrients you need, so don’t follow it for more than 3 or 4 days. If your diarrhea doesn’t get better, you may need to get IV fluids to replace the water and nutrients you have lost.


Last Medical Review: 03/07/2013
Last Revised: 03/07/2013