How is diarrhea treated?

If you have a mild case of diarrhea, you can treat it with an over-the-counter medicine. Common brand names include Pepto-Bismol®, Imodium A-D®, and Kaopectate®. These are available as liquids or tablets. Follow the instructions on the package.

Tips for managing mild diarrhea with medication:

  • Take two tablespoons of Kaopectate or two tablespoons of Pepto-Bismol after each loose stool. Do not take more than eight doses.
  • If Kaopectate does not help in 12 hours, take two tablets of Imodium after each loose stool. Do not take more than eight tablets in 24 hours.
  • If the Imodium does not help in 24 hours or if the diarrhea is still severe after 12 hours, call your doctor.

Tips for managing diarrhea without medication:

  • Drink liquids frequently. Increase the amount to two to three liters or quarts daily as tolerated, or try sipping liquids in small amounts throughout the day. Choose diluted, pulpless fruit juices, broths, oral rehydration drinks, or sodas (without caffeine). Chicken broth (without the fat), tea with honey, and sports drinks also are good choices. Instead of drinking liquids with your meals, drink liquids between meals.
  • Try these low-fiber foods: potatoes; rice; noodles; ripe bananas; applesauce; smooth peanut butter; white bread; chicken or turkey without the skin; lean ground beef; fish; yogurt; or cottage cheese.
  • Avoid the following: greasy, fatty, or fried foods; raw vegetables and fruits; strong spices; and whole-grain cereals and breads.
  • Limit food or beverages with caffeine, such as chocolate, coffee, strong tea, and some sodas.
  • If you have cramping with diarrhea, avoid foods and beverages that cause gas, such as beans, cabbage, beer, and carbonated beverages.
  • Diarrheal illness may cause temporary lactose (dairy) intolerance, so avoid these foods if they are making diarrhea worse.

Certain antibiotics (clindamycin, ampicillin, cephalosporins) can cause diarrhea. Antibiotics can change the balance of bacteria normally found in the intestines, allowing certain types of bacteria like C. difficile to thrive. As a result, the colon might become inflamed.

Antibiotic-associated diarrhea can begin four to 10 days after taking the antibiotic. Discuss this side effect with your doctor.

If you are taking an antibiotic, add yogurt with active cultures to your diet. Call your healthcare provider if the diarrhea continues.

What can be done to relieve discomfort in the rectal area caused by diarrhea?

If your rectal area becomes sore because of frequent bowel movements, or if you have itching, burning, or pain during bowel movements, try sitting in a few inches of warm water in a bathtub. Afterward, pat the area dry (do not rub) with a clean, soft towel. Also, apply petroleum jelly or a hemorrhoid cream to the anus.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/15/2016.


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