People can take steps to stop or help diarrhea at home, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as loperamide (Imodium), and avoiding foods that may worsen symptoms.

Diarrhea is a digestive problem that causes loose, watery bowel movements. It typically lasts for less than a couple of weeks. However, chronic diarrhea can occur if symptoms persist longer than this.

While diarrhea often goes away on its own, several home remedies can ease symptoms and speed up recovery.

This article lists steps to manage and stop diarrhea symptoms and when to speak with a doctor.

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Diarrhea causes a deficit of fluids, including water. This causes the body to lose electrolytes such as sodium and chloride. To support recovery, it is vital to restore fluids. Otherwise, a person may experience dehydration.

Dehydration can be dangerous in children and older adults, so it is crucial for them to drink water if they are experiencing diarrhea.

Drinking water is the first step to rehydration. Doctors may also encourage people to drink diluted fruit juice, OTC rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, or sports drinks, such as Gatorade.

Avoid drinking anything that will further irritate the digestive tract, such as:

  • drinks with caffeine
  • alcohol
  • fizzy drinks
  • very hot drinks

According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), a diet of small, frequent meals can be better than eating three larger meals a day when recovering from diarrhea. Some foods they recommend include:

However, not everyone will benefit from the same foods when experiencing diarrhea. For example, people with lactose intolerance may wish to avoid yogurt.

Some people may find that having a liquid diet for the first 24 hours of diarrhea helps settle the digestive system. This may include salty broths, bland soups, and drinks.

BRAT diet

Another option for people with diarrhea is the BRAT diet. This consists of:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Applesauce
  • Toast

This diet combines bland foods that are low in fiber and high in starch, which may help produce more solid bowel movements. It also contains helpful nutrients, such as potassium and pectin.

It is essential to note that the BRAT diet is highly restrictive and does not provide balanced nutrition. People should only follow this diet until they are feeling better and not long-term.

Some people may benefit from avoiding foods that may irritate or put pressure on the gastrointestinal tract. According to the IFFGD, this can include the following:

  • high fat foods, including fried food, chips, and pastries
  • foods containing artificial sweeteners
  • foods with high levels of fructose
  • fatty meat, such as bacon
  • high fiber foods, such as legumes and vegetables in the cabbage family

If someone has lactose intolerance, doctors may recommend avoiding dairy products containing lactose, as this may worsen diarrhea.

Probiotics are microorganisms that can benefit the digestive system. They may support the workings of the gut and help people fight off infection.

According to a 2022 meta-analysis, probiotics as part of treatment for diarrhea may improve:

However, the authors highlight the necessity of larger, recent, high quality trials to confirm these effects.

Probiotics naturally occur in some yogurts and other fermented foods. People can also buy probiotic supplements in health stores or online.

However, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate all probiotic supplements. People can speak with their doctor about trying probiotics to ensure they choose a safe type.

Several OTC medications are available for treating diarrhea. Some medications people can try for diarrhea include the following:

However, these medications are not always appropriate. People with bloody bowel movements or a fever should refrain from taking OTC drugs and speak with a doctor first.

In most cases, diarrhea symptoms will stop within 5–7 days. However, diarrhea has a range of causes, which a doctor may be able to help treat. People should call a doctor if diarrhea persists over several days or does not respond to home treatment.

Other reasons to see a doctor for diarrhea include:

People at risk of complications, such as young children and older adults, should also see a doctor for treatment if diarrhea does not improve within 48 hours.

Most cases of diarrhea will clear up within a couple of weeks. In the meantime, people can take steps at home to manage their symptoms and stay safe.

Proper hydration is vital when someone has diarrhea. On top of this, people can try the BRAT diet, probiotics, and OTC medications.

If diarrhea persists, does not respond to home treatments, or someone is at risk of complications, people should contact a doctor for further advice.

Read the article in Spanish.