Treatment for Diarrhea

How can I treat my acute diarrhea?

In most cases, you can treat your acute diarrhea with over-the-counter medicines such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate). Doctors generally do not recommend using over-the-counter medicines for people who have bloody stools or fever—signs of infection with bacteria or parasites. If your diarrhea lasts more than 2 days, see a doctor right away.

Young woman sitting on a sofa wrapped in a blanket and holding a large mug.
In most cases, you can treat acute diarrhea with over-the-counter medicines.

When you have acute diarrhea, you may lose your appetite for a short time. When your appetite returns, you can go back to eating your normal diet. Learn more about eating when you have diarrhea.

How can I treat my child’s acute diarrhea?

Over-the-counter medicines to treat acute diarrhea in adults can be dangerous for infants, toddlers, and young children. Talk to a doctor before giving your child an over-the-counter medicine. If your child’s diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours, see a doctor right away.

You can give your child his or her usual age-appropriate diet. You can give your infant breast milk or formula as usual.

How do doctors treat persistent and chronic diarrhea?

How doctors treat persistent and chronic diarrhea depends on the cause. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics and medicines that target parasites to treat bacterial or parasitic infections. Doctors may also prescribe medicines to treat some of the conditions that cause chronic diarrhea, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcerative colitis. How doctors treat chronic diarrhea in children also depends on the cause.

Doctors may recommend probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms, most often bacteria, that are similar to microorganisms you normally have in your digestive tract. Researchers are still studying the use of probiotics to treat diarrhea.

For safety reasons, talk with your doctor before using probiotics or any other complementary or alternative medicines or practices. If your doctor recommends probiotics, talk with him or her about how much probiotics you should take and for how long.

How can I prevent diarrhea?

You can prevent certain types of diarrhea, such as those caused by infections—including rotavirus and traveler’s diarrhea—and foodborne illnesses.

Infections

You can reduce your chances of getting or spreading infections that can cause diarrhea by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for 15 to 30 seconds

  • after using the bathroom
  • after changing diapers
  • before and after handling or preparing food

Rotavirus, which causes viral gastroenteritis, was the most common cause of diarrhea in infants before rotavirus vaccines became available. The vaccines have reduced the number of cases of rotavirus and hospitalizations due to rotavirus among children in the United States.1

Two oral vaccines are approved to protect children from rotavirus infections:

  • rotavirus vaccine, live, oral, pentavalent (RotaTeq). Doctors give infants this vaccine in three doses: at 2 months of age, 4 months of age, and 6 months of age.
  • rotavirus vaccine, live, oral (Rotarix). Doctors give infants this vaccine in two doses: at 2 months of age and at 4 months of age.

For the rotavirus vaccine to be effective, infants should receive all doses by 8 months of age. Infants 15 weeks of age or older who have never received the rotavirus vaccine should not start the series.

Parents or caregivers of infants should discuss rotavirus vaccination with a doctor.

Travelers’ diarrhea

To reduce the chances of getting travelers’ diarrhea when traveling to developing countries, avoid

  • drinking tap water
  • using tap water to make ice, prepare foods or drinks, or brush your teeth
  • drinking juice or milk or eating milk products that have not been pasteurized—heated to kill harmful microbes—viruses, bacteria, and parasites
  • eating food from street vendors
  • eating meat, fish, or shellfish that is raw, undercooked, or not served hot
  • eating raw vegetables and most raw fruits

You can drink bottled water, soft drinks, and hot drinks such as coffee or tea made with boiling water.

If you are worried about travelers’ diarrhea, talk with your doctor before traveling. Doctors may recommend taking antibiotics before and during a trip to help prevent travelers’ diarrhea. Early treatment with antibiotics can shorten a case of travelers’ diarrhea.

Foodborne illnesses

You can prevent foodborne illnesses that cause diarrhea by properly storing, cooking, cleaning, and handling foods.

How can I treat or prevent dehydration caused by diarrhea?

To treat or prevent dehydration, you need to replace lost fluids and electrolytes—called rehydration therapy—especially if you have acute diarrhea. Although drinking plenty of water is important in treating and preventing dehydration, you should also drink liquids that contain electrolytes, such as the following:

  • broths
  • caffeine-free soft drinks
  • fruit juices
  • sports drinks

If you are an older adult or have a weak immune system, you should also drink oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, or CeraLyte. Oral rehydration solutions are liquids that contain glucose and electrolytes. You can make oral rehydration solutions at home.

How can I treat or prevent my child’s dehydration caused by diarrhea?

To treat or prevent dehydration, give your child liquids that contain electrolytes. You can also give your child an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, or CeraLyte, as directed. Talk to a doctor about giving these solutions to your infant.

References

November 2016
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.