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Twice during the past month, I have suffered from a common malady that polite company calls “the runs”. More commonly known as diarrhea, this ailment is often accompanied by cramping, gas, and pain. Most of the time, it passes within an hour or two. There are times, however, when diarrhea will last for hours or even days. That is not good.
What happens when you get a severe case of diarrhea?
One of the most dangerous outcomes is dehydration. Dehydration can cause headache, fatigue, sallow and dry skin, constipation and other woes. It can compromise your immune system and make you weak or even faint. In the most dire cases, diarrhea can cause vomiting, fever, and bloody stools. All of this is in addition to cramps and bloating.
In a worst-case scenario, diarrhea and the resulting symptoms can cause death, especially in children.
What Causes Diarrhea?
Often times, diarrhea is caused by foods that are not wholesome. Such food may contain bacteria such as e-coli or parasites. Contaminated water may also harbor bacteria and parasites. Other causes are certain medicines or antibiotics, or disease and disorders such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose-intolerance among others.
Anyone who travels will know about Norovirus which often runs rampant on cruise ships or in hotels. Norovirus is awful and is accompanied by severe vomiting. Sometimes, the cause can be as simple as eating foods that, for one reason or another, disagree with your digestive system. In my case, it can be something as innocuous as a huge bowl of buttered popcorn. Go figure.
And then there are article sweeteners, artificial “fats”, and other manufactured food additives. For many, these substances can be the root cause of off and on again diarrhea that never really goes away.
Regardless of the cause, if diarrhea lasts much longer than a few hours, dehydration becomes a problem, especially when vomiting is also present. It is lasts longer than a day, and especially if it happens to a child or elderly person, medical attention is warranted.
This leads to the following question: What happens when there is an attack of the runs and medical help is not available? What can we do to treat diarrhea in a survival situation?
For an answer, I went to my go-to person on survival medicine, contributing author, Dr. Joe Alton. As he so aptly points out, sanitation and hygiene will suffer following a disruptive event making all of us susceptible to a case o diarrhea. If that happens, what can we do to treat it?
How to Treat Diarrhea in Survival
With worsening sanitation and hygiene, there will likely be an increase in infectious disease, many of which cause diarrhea. Diarrhea is defined as frequent loose bowel movements.
If a person has 3 liquid stools in a row, it’s important to watch for signs of dehydration. Diarrhea lasting less than three weeks is usually related to an infection, and is known as Acute Diarrhea. Chronic Diarrhea lasts longer than three weeks and is more likely related to disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Diarrhea, generally, is a common ailment which should go away on its own with attention to rehydration methods. In some circumstances, however, diarrhea can be a life-threatening condition. Over 80,000 soldiers perished in the Civil War, not from bullets, but from dehydration related to diarrheal disease.
Common causes of diarrhea are:
- Bacterial infections caused by food or water contamination, such as Salmonella, Shingella, E. Coli and Campylobacter
- Viral Infections like rotavirus, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus, Norwalk virus
- Food Intolerances or Allergies, such as lactose intolerance and seafood allergies
- Medication Reactions, like antibiotics, laxatives
- Parasites, such as Cryptosporidium, Entamoeba and Giardia
- Chronic Intestinal diseases
- Overeating heavy greasy foods or unripe fruit
Danger Symptoms of Diarrhea
In most cases, diarrhea will resolve itself simply by staying hydrated and staying away from solid food for 6-12 hours. However, there are some symptoms that may present in association with diarrhea that can be a sign of something more serious. Those symptoms are:
- Fever equal to or greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Bloody, mucus, or frothy yellow stool
- Black or grey-white stool
- Severe vomiting
- Major abdominal distension and pain
- Moderate to severe dehydration, which is not getting better
- Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days in adults
- Diarrhea lasting more than 1 day in children and the sick or elderly
- In children also, abdominal pain causing crying for over 2 hours
All of the above may be signs of serious infection, intestinal bleeding, liver dysfunction, or even surgical conditions such as appendicitis. As well, all of the above will increase the likelihood that the person affected won’t be able to regulate their fluid balance.
The end result (and most common cause of death) of untreated diarrheal illness is dehydration. 75% of the body’s weight is made up of water; the average adult requires 2 to 3 liters of fluid per day to remain in balance. Children become dehydrated more easily than adults: 4 million children die every year in underdeveloped countries from dehydration due to diarrhea and other causes.
Rehydration Treatment for Diarrhea
Fluid replacement is the treatment for dehydration caused by diarrhea. Oral rehydration is the first line of treatment, but if this fails, intravenous fluid (IV) may be needed, which requires special skills. Always start by giving your patient small amounts of clear fluids.
For pediatric diarrhea, the problem can become life threatening much faster. Be diligent in fluid replacement and continue breast-feeding if the infant is still nursing. Do not use watered down fruit juices or Gatorade products for these infants or children. The best fluid replacement according to one study called Evaluation of Infant Rehydration Solutions, by James F. Wesley, states, “The most appropriate product would have an acceptable taste and a hypotonic osmolality. That would be unflavored Gerber Liquilyte.
Oral rehydration packets are commercially available, but you can produce your own homemade rehydration fluid very easily.
For adults use 1 liter of water, and for children use 2 liters of water, then add:
- 6-8 teaspoons of sugar (sucrose)
- 1 teaspoon of salt (sodium chloride)
- ½ teaspoon of salt substitute (potassium chloride)
- A pinch of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
As the patient shows an ability to tolerate these fluids, advancement of the diet is undertaken. It is wise to avoid milk, as some are lactose intolerant.
A popular strategy for rapid recovery from dehydration is the BRAT diet, used commonly in children. This diet consists of:
- Plain Toast (or crackers)
Once the patient keeps down thin cereals, you can add more solid foods. Additional energy needs may be met with these foods, as the patient gets better:
- Brown Rice water
- Chicken or Beef broth, with rice or noodles
- Oatmeal or grits
- Boiled eggs
- Boiled potatoes
- Baked Chicken
- Vegetable broth with very soft carrots, potatoes
- Organic Yogurt for probiotics after diarrhea stops
The advantage of this strategy is that these food items are very bland, easily tolerated, and slow down intestinal motility (the rapidity of movement of food/fluids through your system). This will slow down diarrhea and, as a result, water loss. In a survival setting, you will probably not have many bananas, but hopefully you have stored rice and/or applesauce, and have the ability to bake bread.
Various natural substances have been reported to be helpful in these situations. Herbal remedies that are thought to help with diarrhea include:
- Ginger (fresh is best)
- Meadowsweet (mild and highly recommended)
- Blackberry leaf
- Raspberry leaf
- Sunflower leaf
- Garden Sage
- Slippery Elm
- Oak Bark (very strong, last resort)
Make a tea (infusion) by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoon of dried herbs and let them brew with a lid for 10-15 minutes, strain, then drink a cup every 2-3 hours, or until the patient feels better. A small amount of raw honey may be added for taste and a pinch of cinnamon.
Half a clove of fresh crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon of raw, unprocessed honey 3-4 times a day is thought to exert an antibacterial effect in some cases of diarrhea. A small amount of nutmeg may decrease the number of loose bowel movements.
Of course, there are medicines that can help and you should stockpile these in quantity. Pepto-Bismol and Imodium (Loperamide) will help stop diarrhea. They don’t cure infections, but they will slow down the number of bowel movements and conserve water. These are over the counter medicines, and are easy to obtain. In tablet form, these medicines will last for years if properly stored. Don’t use medication as a first option; some causes of diarrhea are made worse with these medications.
There are some theories about creating homemade IV solutions.
This is problematic and all the obstacles cannot be overcome. How do you make a 100% sterile solution that is exactly normal saline, get it into a sterile bag/delivery system and keep it 100% sterile in the process?
You’ll need a tubing system, which must also be sterile, to an I.V. catheter, which must be sterile until used. A standard IV bag is created in a specialized environment and remains sterile until punctured by a sterile (hopefully) tubing. Any exposure to the air will eliminate the sterility, which means that it is possible that you might be infusing bacteria directly into your patient’s bloodstream, a very bad idea.
As a last resort to treat dehydration from diarrhea (especially if there is also a high fever), you can try antibiotics or anti-parasitic drugs. Ciprofloxacin, Doxycycline and Metronidazole are good choices, twice a day, until the stools are less watery. Some of these are available in veterinary form without a prescription. These medicines should be used only as a last resort, as the main side effect is usually…diarrhea!
By Joe Alton, MD, of www.doomandbloom.net
Co-Author, The Survival Medicine Handbook
The Final Word
Having plenty of tea, honey, salt, sugar, herbs, and baking soda in the survival pantry will be your first line of defense when when diarrhea strikes. Herbs such as ginger, chamomile, and meadowsweet are especially useful and can be easily cultivated yourself. To be honest, these and other natural solutions are always the remedy of choice in my household.
I am not a big fan of Pepto-Bismol but I do stock both Imodium tablets and liquid in my emergency kit. The liquid, in small amounts, has also been prescribed by my veterinarian for Tucker the Dog, so I feel that having some on board serves a dual purpose in resolving both human and canine woes.
Finally, I use an essential oil blend called “Digest” when my own gastro-intestinal system is acting up. I use it topically (never internally) by combining a few drops with a carrier oil such as Simple Salve (which I make myself), or coconut oil.
Having diarrhea is never a picnic. If a severe attack occurs following a major disaster or disruptive event, the resulting dehydration can be severe enough to become life threatening. Knowing what to do and when to do it will go a long way to ensuring that you will make it through, no matter what.
And isn’t that what prepping is all about?
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Spotlight Item: The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help is Not on the Way, by Joe and Amy Alton, is a guide for those who want to be medically prepared for any disaster where help is NOT on the way.
It is written from the non-medical professional and assumes that no hospital or doctor is available in the aftermath of a catastrophic event. It covers skills such as performing a physical exam, transporting the injured patient, and even how to suture a wound. This medical reference belongs in every survival library.
Below you will find the items related to today’s article as well as items referenced in Fast Track Tip #10: 8 Uncommon First Aid Items.
Digest Blend Essential Oil: Over and over again, this particular blend from Spark Naturals has worked its magic to review indigestion, acid reflux, stomach cramps and even diarrhea. I used it topically, mixed with some carrier oil (Simple Salve that I make myself) or coconut oil. Even Shelly swears by it. This stuff is magic!
Note: The individual oils in this proprietary blend are of Lemon, Spearmint, Myrrh, Fennel and Ginger. As always, As always, enjoy a 10% discount at Spark Naturals with code BACKDOORSURVIVAL.
Imodium Multi-Symptom Relief: Although I reach for natural remedies first, Imodium is a second line of defense when a case of the runs strikes. I prefer the tablets but also keep some of liquid Imodium on hand as well.
New-Skin Liquid Bandage, First Aid Liquid Antiseptic: I have been using New Skin for years. It is an antiseptic, invisible, flexible, and waterproof. It works.
Super Glue – The Original: This is the original Super Glue brand. This works a lot like the liquid bandage above in that you apply it to the wound and when it’s dry, it will hold the cut together. Also check out Krazy Glue or Gorilla Brand Super Glue.
First Voice Self-Adherent Stretch Bandage (Pack of 10): I first learned about self-adhesive bandages when my dog came home from the vet such a bandage wrapped around his leg. A light went off telling me I needed to add some to my first-aid kit. And so I did. This is a fantastic price and rivals the price at the farm supply.
Quikclot Sport Brand Advanced Clotting Sponge: A must for any first aid or emergency kit, Quikclot Sport stops moderate to severe bleeding until further medical help is available.
Israeli Battle Dressing, 6-inch Compression Bandage: This is another inexpensive, yet critical item. Combat medics, trauma doctors, and emergency responders all recommend this Israeli Battle Dressing (IBD) for the treatment of gunshot wounds, puncture wounds, deep cuts, and other traumatic hemorrhagic injuries.
Prepper’s Natural Medicine: Life-Saving Herbs, Essential Oils and Natural Remedies for When There is No Doctor: This is a fantastic book from fellow blogger, Cat Ellis. In it you will learn that natural remedies are not voodoo but rather, natures way of healing without the use of toxic chemicals and additives. Highly recommended.
Spark Naturals Essential Oils: I use essential oils from Spark Naturals exclusively. They are high quality yet reasonably priced. In addition, there are no membership fees and a distributor relationship is not necessary to get best pricing. Interested in checking them out? Backdoor Survival readers get a 10% discount by using coupon code BACKDOORSURVIVAL at checkout!
Help support Backdoor Survival. Purchases earn a small commission and for that I thank you!
18 Responses to “Treating the Runs in a Survival Situation”
Hi, Thanks for your top-notch article. Actually, In most cases, diarrhea can be treated at home and it will resolve itself in a few days. Drink plenty of fluids, and follow the “BRAT” diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) to help ease symptoms. Take care to ensure infants and children stay hydrated. Electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte can be helpful.
Afor sure fix is iodine 50, water purification tabs. One tab per pint of liquid. If you are not allergic to iodine! I used iodine tabs in water to cure “the runs” from drnking tea at Shura’s in Afghanistan, from eating at jungle restaurants in Peru, Bolivia, and Columbia. An SF medic told me that the iodine abs not only purify the water in the bottle, but they also purify your whole system as the water passes through. Instead of being down for 3 days from food poisoning or jungle sourced lemonade, you’ll be back on your feet in about 8 hours. Instead of you and your copilot having to eat at different locations, start with the iodine water ahead of the mission, and your system will be tough as nails. For added protection, stop drinking any chlorinated, or floridated water 2 weeks before your excursion. It will give your bodies natural defenses time to recharge, as Chlorine, and Flouride absolutely shut down all your bodies natural defenses. Bad seafood?- iodine! E-coli?- iodine! Poluted water?- iodine!
Really have to put my two cents in on the constipation issue. It is truly a painful nightmare. Anyone prone to this should have a product that works for them, carry a lot of it in their backpacks and start taking at the first sign of trouble. For me trouble is one day without going. The product I like is called SWISS KRISS. Available at any health food store, GNC, and probably on Amazon. Seriously, folks. This is not to be taken lightly and just wait and see what happens as the days go by.
If I don’t go for a day then I’m always starting on my plan…hot beverages or soup, then fiber, then OTC meds if necessary. Being stopped up too long can be a serious medical issue so early action is key. I stock fiber capsules as well as two kinds of stool softeners. Sometimes I swear my medicine shelves are better stocked than the local pharmacy. 😛
Of course, the very first thing folks should do is make sure they are full hydrated! Not drinking enough water can stop you up just as fast as other things and it’s the easiest thing to fix. Although if dehydration gets serious make sure you can make oral rehydration solution quickly. I found some premixed packets at the pharmacy so I can travel with those while I have the fixings for more at home.
while camping (or in survival situation) I tend to have the opposite problem….I don’t go for a couple days and then when I do, it’s miserable. Maybe you should consider doing an article on that situation as well…..
So noted. Actually, that is a good idea since constipation can become a very real problem when eating unfamiliar foods (or the wrong foods).