How is diarrhea treated?
Rehydration is very important. Electrolyte solutions (eg, Pedialyte) are used in acute diarrhea to replace lost fluids and salts and are usually available as flavored powder in sachets or liquids that need to be mixed with water before taking. Electrolyte solutions do not cure the diarrhea but are necessary to prevent dehydration, which can be dangerous, particularly in the elderly and young children. Medical advice should always be sought before treating the elderly and young children. Adsorbents (eg, methylcellulose [Citrucel] ) help to adsorb (mop up) toxic substances in cases of infective diarrhea and are also used in chronic diarrhea. Opiate derivatives act by slowing movement through the intestine and should only be taken as a short-term solution. These can be purchased over the counter. Examples include loperamide (Imodium). Another preparation containing diphenoxylate and atropine (Lomotil) can be used in diarrhea associated with cramps; this product contains and opiate (diphenoxylate) and an antispasmodic (atropine) to relieve the cramps. Occasionally, antibiotics may be prescribed, usually for diarrhea associated with a tropical disease. Antibiotics are not usually given in cases of food poisoning.

Self-help measures

  • Avoid dehydration; drink clear fluids, preferably those containing electrolytes and an energy source such as glucose. Simple Gatorade is an option but rehydration sachets or solutions can be bought over the counter from a pharmacist or obtained on prescription from your doctor.
  • Good hygiene, particularly washing your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, is essential in case the diarrhea is infectious.
  • Do not prepare food for other people, especially babies and old people, while you have acute diarrhea. 
  • A carbohydrate diet that includes boiled potatoes or boiled rice may help.
  • If the diarrhea does not resolve after a few days, seek medical advice.

Last Reviewed: May 2013