We’ve all had diarrhea at some point in our lives and are familiar with its symptoms – abdominal cramping, bloating and frequent loose and watery stools. It’s a common condition and usually not serious. In fact, most bouts of diarrhea last 2 to 3 days or a week at most and can be treated at home. Here are some of the most effective diarrhea remedies that can ease the unpleasant symptoms and help you return to normal faster.
Over-the-Counter Diarrhea Medicine
There are many types of over-the-counter medications that can provide relief from acute diarrhea if your symptoms are not severe. You can conveniently purchase a diarrhea medicine in all drug stores and online pharmacies without having to visit your doctor to get a prescription. It’s a good idea to always have some anti-diarrhea solution in your home so that you can take it immediately when the symptoms start. This can help reduce the duration of the illness and prevent dehydration which can be serious. Over-the-counter diarrhea medicines usually include one of these active ingredients:
- loperamide (found in Gastro Stop, Imodium, Gastrex)
- bismuth subsalicylate (Peptosyl, Kaopectate)
- diphenoxylate and atropine sulfate (Lomotil)
Diarrhoea medicines help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms and usually take effect within an hour. However, they do not treat the underlying cause of your diarrhea. If you have chronic diarrhea which is caused by an underlying health condition, you shouldn’t take these medications without your doctor’s consent. Pregnant women and children younger than 12 shouldn’t use an over-the-counter anti diarrhea medication unless prescribed by a doctor. Infants under 3 months old who have diarrhea should be taken to the hospital right away. Severe dehydration in infants can occur very quickly and be life-threatening.
If your symptoms persist for more than seven days or become worse after taking an OTC medication, you should seek urgent medical attention.
Dehydration is the most common complication from acute diarrhea. Signs of dehydration include dry or sticky mouth, headache, lethargy, decreased urinary output (or darker in colour), sunken eyes and sunken fontanelle in infants (the soft spot on their head). While dehydration caused by diarrhea can be fatal in young children, it can be just as serious for older adults too.
For that reason, it’s important that any person experiencing diarrhoea drinks plenty of hydrating fluids like water, clear juice and broths. On the other hand, fluids like coffee, tea, milk soda and alcohol can worsen dehydration and should be avoided. If unable to drink enough to stay hydrated, you can take a sports drink or some over-the-counter oral hydration solutions which can help you replenish lost electrolytes. Rehydration formulas such as Gastrolyte, Hydralyte and GastroHealth Rehydrate are all great choices.
Your gastrointestinal system contains so-called ”good” bacteria which help maintain its normal function. However, antibiotics or “bad” bacteria and viruses can disrupt the balance in the gastrointestinal system and kill some of the good bacteria, leading to diarrhoea. When that happens, finding ways to restore some of the “good” bacteria in your intestinal tract can help you reduce the duration and severity of diarrhoea. Probiotics are the best sources of “good” bacteria. They’re essentially living microorganisms that are found in foods such as yoghurt, kefir, cottage cheese, aged soft cheeses, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and pickles.
However, people struggling with diarrhoea often have stomach problems and reduced appetite. In this case, probiotics in powder or pill form can be a good solution. Look for OTC probiotics that include some of the following bacteria: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces. These microorganisms can quickly help to restore normal bowel function.
When dealing with diarrhoea, you want to reduce the strain on your digestive system. In order not to irritate your stomach and bowels which can prolong the duration and severity of symptoms, it’s recommended to stick to a “bland” diet. Light and bland foods can give your gastrointestinal tract the break it needs. The BRAT diet is commonly recommended for easing digestive distress. It includes the consumption of four low-fibre, light and bland foods that will help firm up stools – bananas, rice (white), applesauce and toast. Your digestive tract might also tolerate other foods such as oatmeal, boiled or baked potatoes, chicken soup (which helps to rehydrate), baked chicken with the skin removed.
On the other hand, whatever you do, make sure to avoid high-fibre foods, raw fruits and vegetables, fried and greasy foods which can increase bloating. Some foods to avoid include broccoli, cauliflower, chickpeas, beans, cabbage, green leafy vegetables, corn, prunes, berries, ice cream and foods with artificial sweeteners (chewing gums, candy).
When to See a Doctor
Although these remedies are generally effective in helping diarrhoea resolve fast, if you experience more than three loose bowel movements or bouts of vomiting in the course of 24 hours, see a doctor immediately. Another sign to get urgent medical help is if you haven’t been able to drink water for more than 12 hours. Call an ambulance right away if you have severe abdominal and rectal pain, black stools or blood in your stools, a fever over 39oC a stiff neck or a yellow tinge to your skin.