Fluids, a bland diet, and over-the-counter medicines can help manage your symptoms and ease diarrhea.
Usually, a bout of diarrhea only lasts a few days, going away on its own without any treatment. “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 always check with your pediatrician before giving your children any medication.
If you do have diarrhea, here are three ways you can ease your discomfort.
1. Be Sure to Stay Hydrated
Your body can lose a lot of fluids and salts when you have diarrhea, making dehydration a major concern. Frequent loose and watery stools can quickly lead to fluid loss. Here are some easy ways to stay hydrated:
Select sports drinks. “Sports drinks make sense and are available in a wide variety of flavors," Dr. Bickston says. Sports drink work because of their sugar and salt content, both allow water to be more easily 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 keeping your drinks at room temperature because a warm drink will sit better with you than a cold one.
Stick to clear liquids. 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 make your symptoms feel worse because diarrhea can cause temporary lactose-intolerance.
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2. Try Eating a Bland Diet
When dealing with a brief bout of diarrhea, you want to keep your diet bland. You may find it best to only have clear liquids for the first 24 hours. Then, you can slowly add bland foods to your diet. Some bland foods include bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast — otherwise known as the BRAT diet. Crackers and mashed potatoes (minus the butter) are also safe.
If your diarrhea lasts more than a few days, you might want to investigate the foods you are eating, as some can irritate your bowel and make diarrhea worse. These include foods high in fiber (bran, whole grains, brown rice) as well as greasy or excessively sweet foods. Foods that are sweetened with sorbitol may also aggravate diarrhea, Bickston says. If loose stools are a problem, then you may want to avoid these foods.
If you suspect your diarrhea is caused by a certain food, try an elimination diet. Cut the suspected food from your diet until you can determine whether or not it is a problem. If it's not the problem, feel free to keep eating that food. “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.”
3. Try Some Over-the-Counter Medications
In most cases, over-the-counter medications can be helpful in stopping an occasional bout of diarrhea — especially traveler's diarrhea (ingesting contaminated food or water while abroad). Over-the-counter medications 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.