Ways to treat Diarrhea
Usually, a bout of diarrhea will last only a few days. This common digestive health problem usually goes away on its own, and recovery occurs without administering any remedies. “However, severe diarrhea, diarrhea that lasts more than a few days, or prolonged episodes of diarrhea are reasons to see a doctor, as they could indicate something more serious,” says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond, Va. It’s also important to remember that diarrhea treatments for adults, especially medication, may not be the same for children with diarrhea, so you should check with your pediatrician first.
Treatment for Diarrhea: Preventing Dehydration
The major concern with diarrhea is dehydration. Your body can lose a lot of fluids and salts when you have very loose, watery stools, and it is important to replenish them. Here’s how:
- Select sports drinks. “Sports drinks make sense and are available in a wide variety of flavors,” Dr. Bickston says. What makes them work is their sugar and salt contents, both of which cause water to be absorbed, and even more so when taken together. People can make their own sports drinks by adding a teaspoon of salt to a quart of apple juice, Bickston says. “That little amount of salt will help the body absorb fluids but isn’t enough to make the apple juice taste bad.” Bickston recommends the drinks be at room temperature because warm sits better than cold.
- Sip other good fluid options. Some other good choices for treating diarrhea include clear broth and water (unless you are traveling out of the country).
- Avoid drinks that can worsen symptoms. Caffeinated, alcoholic, and sugary drinks can worsen dehydration. Milk and other dairy products can exacerbate the problem for some people, who may become lactose-intolerant for a short time after getting diarrhea.
Treatment for Diarrhea: A Bland Diet
When dealing with a brief bout of diarrhea, you want to watch your diet and keep it bland. You may not want to eat anything but clear liquids for the first 24 hours. Then, you can slowly add bland foods to your diet. These include bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast — otherwise known as the BRAT diet. Crackers and mashed potatoes (minus the butter) are also safe, bland foods.
If your diarrhea is more prolonged, you might want to investigate the foods you are eating, as some can irritate your bowel and make diarrhea worse. These include foods that are high in fiber (bran, whole grains, brown rice) and greasy or excessively sweet foods. Foods that are sweetened with sorbitol can aggravate diarrhea, Bickston says. If loose stools have become a problem, then you may want to avoid these foods.
If certain foods are causing your diarrhea, try the elimination diet. Cut the suspected food from your diet until you are sure it is or is not the culprit. If it’s not the problem, feel free to return that food to your diet. “The difficulty I see in a lot of patients is that they don’t put things back into their diet even if they’re not causing a problem, and now they’ve painted themselves into a dietary corner,” Bickston says. “All they’re eating is mashed potatoes and rice.”
Treatment for Diarrhea: Pharmaceutical Options
In most cases, over-the-counter medications can be helpful in stopping an occasional bout of diarrhea — especially with traveler’s diarrhea (ingesting contaminated food or water while abroad). Choices you can buy at your pharmacy include loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate). “These are reasonable to use on occasion and have the great advantage of not requiring a doctor’s prescription,” Bickston says. However, they should not be used for more than two days.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you take pharmaceutical remedies for traveler’s diarrhea, they may make you feel better sooner, but they could keep any bacteria, parasites, or viruses in your system longer. Usually, diarrhea will go away in a few days on its own.
Be sure to replace any fluids and salts that you lose when you have diarrhea. Drink plenty of clear fluids and eat bland foods to get back to normal quickly. If your diarrhea persists, talk to your doctor.
By Beth Orenstein for everydayhealth.com|Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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