Most diarrhea cases clear up on their own within a few days. To help you cope with your signs and symptoms until the diarrhea goes away, try to:
- Drink plenty of clear liquids, including water, broths and juices. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Add semisolid and low-fiber foods gradually as your bowel movements return to normal. Try soda crackers, toast, eggs, rice or chicken.
- Avoid certain foods such as dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods or highly seasoned foods for a few days.
Ask about anti-diarrheal medications. Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-diarrheal medications, such as loperamide (Imodium A-D) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), might help reduce the number of watery bowel movements and control severe symptoms.
Certain medical conditions and infections — bacterial and parasitic — can be worsened by these medications because they prevent your body from getting rid of what's causing the diarrhea. Also, these drugs aren't always safe for children. Check with your doctor before taking these medications or giving them to a child.
Consider taking probiotics. These microorganisms help restore a healthy balance to the intestinal tract by boosting the level of good bacteria. Probiotics are available in capsule or liquid form and are also added to some foods, such as certain brands of yogurt.
Studies confirm that some probiotics might be helpful in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea and infectious diarrhea. However, further research is needed to better understand which strains of bacteria are most helpful or what doses are needed.
Preventing viral diarrhea
Wash your hands to prevent the spread of viral diarrhea. To ensure adequate hand-washing:
- Wash frequently. Wash your hands before and after preparing food. Wash your hands after handling uncooked meat, using the toilet, changing diapers, sneezing, coughing and blowing your nose.
- Lather with soap for at least 20 seconds. After putting soap on your hands, rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds. This is about as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice through.
- Use hand sanitizer when washing isn't possible. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you can't get to a sink. Apply the hand sanitizer as you would hand lotion, making sure to cover the fronts and backs of both hands. Use a product that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
You can help protect your infant from rotavirus, the most common cause of viral diarrhea in children, with one of two approved vaccines. Ask your baby's doctor about having your baby vaccinated.
Preventing traveler's diarrhea
Diarrhea commonly affects people who travel to countries where there's inadequate sanitation and contaminated food. To reduce your risk:
- Watch what you eat. Eat hot, well-cooked foods. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables unless you can peel them yourself. Also avoid raw or undercooked meats and dairy foods.
Watch what you drink. Drink bottled water, soda, beer or wine served in its original container. Avoid tap water and ice cubes. Use bottled water even for brushing your teeth. Keep your mouth closed while you shower.
Beverages made with boiled water, such as coffee and tea, are probably safe. Remember that alcohol and caffeine can aggravate diarrhea and dehydration.
- Ask your doctor about antibiotics. If you're traveling to a developing country for an extended time, ask your doctor about starting antibiotics before you go, especially if you have a weakened immune system. In certain cases, taking an antibiotic might reduce your risk of traveler's diarrhea.
- Check for travel warnings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a travelers' health website where disease warnings are posted for various countries. If you're planning to travel outside of the United States, check there for warnings and tips for reducing your risk.
Oct. 25, 2016
- Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/diarrhea. Accessed March 27, 2016.
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- Rotavirus vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/rotavirus/default.htm?s_cid=cs_074. Accessed March 29, 2016.
- Wash your hands. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HandWashing. Accessed March 27, 2016.
- Sartor RB. Probiotics for gastrointestinal diseases. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 29, 2016.