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Opinion statement: Chronic diarrhea can be due to any of several hundred conditions. When investigation fails to uncover a specific cause that can be treated successfully, nonspecific therapy is implemented. This includes dietary alterations if specific aggravating foods can be identified, enteral or parenteral nutrition if nutritional status is compromised, and use of oral rehydration solutions if diarrhea produces volume depletion. Strategic use of dietary fiber can improve stool consistency and can be of special value when fecal incontinence is present concurrently. Medications of value include opiate antidiarrheal drugs, clonidine, octreotide, and bile acid-binding agents. Less potent opiates such as loperamide and diphenoxylate should be tried first, with more potent agents such as codeine, opium, and morphine used in refractory cases. Clonidine has both proabsorptive and motility effects that facilitate its antidiarrheal effect, but its antihypertensive action limits its utility. Octreotide is of great value in treating diarrhea due to endocrine tumors and dumping syndrome; its efficacy in other conditions or in nonspecific diarrhea is less well established. Bile acid binders such as cholestyramine or colestipol have several specific uses but have limited utility in nonspecific chronic diarrhea.
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