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How To Stop Diarrhea

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Updated May 29, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Diarrhea is a condition that leads to frequent, loose or watery stools. Those with it don't absorb nutrients or water properly. If it lasts too long, diarrhea sufferers can get dehydrated or have electrolyte problems.

In most cases of sudden diarrhea the right treatment is simply waiting it out. The body is almost always reacting to an infection or ingestion of something bad by ridding itself of toxins or bacteria and once it is finished, bowl movements will return to normal. When diarrhea lasts more than a couple of days or comes on frequently, it might be a bigger problem and will need to be treated by a healthcare provider.

Specific causes of diarrhea have specific treatments. Use these general treatment steps when the cause of diarrhea isn't known or can't be treated itself.

Time Required: 24 to 72 hours

Here's How:

  1. Avoid dehydration. Drink lots of clear fluid -- no alcohol or caffeine. Milk will usually prolong diarrhea, but it might help provide nutrients for folks with very mild cases. For moderate to severe cases, use an electrolyte solution like Gatorade or Pedialyte.

  2. Eat probiotic yogurt. These active cultures can ease the symptoms of some types of diarrhea and shorten their duration.

  3. Try the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, apples or applesauce, and dry toast. This diet is often suggested for kids, but adults can eat it as well. It's not necessary to restrict kids or adults to this diet, but adding these foods may help shorten episodes of diarrhea.

  4. Avoid diarrhea medications, unless the doctor tells you to take them. The function of diarrhea is to rid the body of bad bugs. Often the only way to get better is to suffer through the loose stools.

  5. The following cases require seeking emergency treatment:
    • Vomiting or diarrhea in a newborn under 3 months (call as soon as it starts)
    • Kids older than 3 months vomiting for more than 12 hours
    • Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
    • Bloody, black, or oily looking stools
    • Abdominal pain that doesn't get better with a bowel movement
    • Dehydration symptoms including dizziness, weakness or muscle cramps
    • Fever, along with diarrhea, of more than 101 in adults or 100.4 in kids
    • Recent travel outside the country (Traveler's Diarrhea)
    • People with whom you've eaten complaining of diarrhea
    • Diarrhea after starting a new medication

  6. Get plenty of rest.

    Sources:

    "Travelers’ Diarrhea." 15 Feb 2008. Centers for Disease Control. CDC. 12 Mar 2008

    "Diarrhea." 20 Feb 2008. Medline Plus. USNLM/NIH. 12 Mar 2008

    "Diarrhea." Mar 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. NIDDK. 23 Mar 2008

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