Diarrhea is a common problem that can come with painful cramps and weakness. Defined as three or more loose stools a day, it’s often due to food intolerance, bacteria, or a virus. A new medication may also cause diarrhea as a side effect.
Fortunately, most cases of diarrhea get better in a couple of days and don’t require treatment. Instead, rest and hydration can help you feel better. You can also consider over-the-counter medicines.
Never Miss a Beat!
Subscribe to Our HealthBeat Newsletter!
Thank you for subscribing!
You can now select the specific newsletters you'd like to receive.
You are already subscribed.
Subscribe to more newsletters in our email preference center.
Sorry, an error occurred. Please try again later.
Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!
Over-the-Counter Medications to Stop Diarrhea at Home
Wondering how to stop diarrhea fast at home? You could benefit from over-the-counter medications that prevent diarrhea.
These include Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate, which both contain the same active ingredient. These medications reduce inflammation and help stop bacteria and viruses from spreading.
Another option is Imodium, which slows down digestion. Though Imodium can often work faster than the other meds, it’s not recommended for children and younger teens. You can, however, give Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate to kids older than 2.
These medications can interact with other drugs, as well as other chronic conditions. If you are taking other meds or have a chronic condition, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking an anti-diarrhea medication. They can confirm that it is safe for you.
Another word of caution is that Imodium can sometimes worsen or prolong digestive upset. That’s because the drug can slow the body’s process of flushing bacteria out of the body.
If you think bacteria is the culprit, ask your doctor if Imodium is OK, or try the other alternative meds. You should also avoid Imodium if you have black or tarry diarrhea, which could be a sign of serious infection or internal bleeding.
What to Drink for Diarrhea and What to Avoid
If you have diarrhea, you should drink liquids with electrolytes, or naturally occurring minerals. These include soup broths, sports drinks, and soda like ginger ale.
If you have excessive diarrhea and you worry about dehydration, you can get over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions. You can find these solutions under names like Pedialyte, NaturaLyte, Infalyte, or Ceralyte.
Rehydration solutions are more important for children, elderly people, and the immunocompromised. That’s because they are more prone to dehydration.
Because artificial sweeteners and caffeine can cause diarrhea, especially in large amounts, it’s best to steer clear of them. You should also avoid dairy products because lactase is difficult to digest when the intestine has become inflamed.
Fatty and greasy foods as well as spicy foods are hard on the digestive system, so you should avoid these as well.
Many people with diarrhea have a reduced appetite. However, when you feel better, you can resume eating the meals you normally would. “It is best to start with bland carbohydrates, such as sugar-free cereals when resuming food,” says Martin Johns, MD, Shenango Valley Family Medicine Center-UPMC.
When to See a Doctor For Diarrhea
“Diarrhea is a common ailment and usually more of a nuisance than a major problem. As long as there is no blood or mucus in the stool, and abdominal cramping is minimal, it is good to try these medications and increase your fluid intake first and then call your doctor if it isn’t getting better,” says Dr. Johns. (Because children can become dehydrated faster, they should see a doctor if their diarrhea doesn’t get better in 24 hours.)
You should also see a doctor if you have bloody or black stools or stools with mucus. This is often a sign of a serious infection or other health problem that needs treatment.
In some cases, recurring diarrhea can have a more serious or long-term cause. These include irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, and many other conditions. Doctors can offer tests to determine the cause of your diarrhea and cater treatment accordingly.
Finally, seek urgent medical attention if you can’t prevent dehydration at home. Signs of dehydration include a dry mouth, a lack of tears, drowsiness, sunken eyes, and blotchy hands and feet.
American Academy of Family Physicians. Anti-diarrheal Medicines: OTC Relief for Diarrhea. Link
Charlotte Hilton Anderson. How to get rid of diarrhea fast, according to GI doctors. Women's Health. Link
MedlinePlus. Diarrhea. Link
National Institutes of Health. Treatment for diarrhea. Link
National Institutes of Health. Eating, diet, and nutrition for diarrhea. Link
Connect with UPMC
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.