Treatments for Diarrhea

NIAID-supported scientists discovered that children with bloody diarrhea should not be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics can lead to the release of more bacterial toxins and increase kidney damage, including subsequent HUS.

Source: NIAID (NIH)1

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Back to: « Diarrhea

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What should I do if I think I might have cryptosporidiosis?

For diarrhea whose cause has not been determined, the following actions may help relieve symptoms: Individuals who have health concerns should talk to their healthcare provider.

  • Drink plenty of fluids to remain well hydrated and avoid dehydration. Serious health problems can occur if the body does not maintain proper fluid levels. For some people, diarrhea can be severe resulting in hospitalization due to dehydration.
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet. Doing so may help speed recovery.
  • Avoid beverages that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee, and many soft drinks.
  • Avoid alcohol, as it can lead to dehydration.

Contact your healthcare provider if you suspect that you have cryptosporidiosis.

Source: CDC Parasites2

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How can I treat my acute diarrhea?

In most cases, you can treat your acute diarrhea with over-the-counter medicines such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate). Doctors generally do not recommend using over-the-counter medicines for people who have bloody stools or fever—signs of infection with bacteria or parasites. If your diarrhea lasts more than 2 days, see a doctor right away.

When you have acute diarrhea, you may lose your appetite for a short time. When your appetite returns, you can go back to eating your normal diet. Learn more about eating when you have diarrhea.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)3

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How can I treat my child’s acute diarrhea?

Over-the-counter medicines to treat acute diarrhea in adults can be dangerous for infants, toddlers, and young children. Talk to a doctor before giving your child an over-the-counter medicine. If your child’s diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours, see a doctor right away.

You can give your child his or her usual age-appropriate diet. You can give your infant breast milk or formula as usual.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)4

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How do doctors treat persistent and chronic diarrhea?

How doctors treat persistent and chronic diarrhea depends on the cause. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics and medicines that target parasites to treat bacterial or parasitic infections. Doctors may also prescribe medicines to treat some of the conditions that cause chronic diarrhea, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcerative colitis. How doctors treat chronic diarrhea in children also depends on the cause.

Doctors may recommend probiotics . Probiotics are live microorganisms, most often bacteria, that are similar to microorganisms you normally have in your digestive tract. Researchers are still studying the use of probiotics to treat diarrhea.

For safety reasons, talk with your doctor before using probiotics or any other complementary or alternative medicines or practices. If your doctor recommends probiotics, talk with him or her about how much probiotics you should take and for how long.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)5

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Eating, Diet, and Nutrition

What should I eat if I have diarrhea?

If you have diarrhea, you may lose your appetite for a short time. In most cases, when your appetite returns, you can go back to eating your normal diet. Parents and caretakers should give children with diarrhea their usual age-appropriate diet and give infants breast milk or formula.

Parents and caretakers should give children with diarrhea their usual age-appropriate diet and give infants breast milk or formula.

Your doctor may recommend changing your diet to treat some causes of chronic diarrhea, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)6

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What should I avoid eating if I have diarrhea?

You should avoid foods that may make your diarrhea worse, such as

  • alcoholic beverages
  • drinks and foods containing caffeine
  • dairy products such as milk, cheese, and ice cream
  • fatty and greasy foods
  • drinks and foods containing fructose
  • fruits such as apples, peaches, and pears
  • spicy foods
  • diet drinks and sugarless gum and candies containing sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol

Research shows that following a restricted diet does not help treat diarrhea in most cases. Most experts do not recommend fasting or following a restricted diet when you have diarrhea.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)7

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Treatment

In many cases the condition is self-limiting and resolves in a few days. A child with diarrhoea who is drinking well and who is alert and responsive can usually be looked after at home. The most important treatment for diarrhoea in young children is to provide fluids, which will not cure the diarrhoea but will prevent dehydration.

Source: Queensland Health8

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Fluids and feeding

The most appropriate fluids contain a mixture of special salts (electrolytes) and sugars. Oral rehydration solution can be purchased from pharmacies and should be mixed only with water and according to manufacturers’ instructions.

Children who refuse oral rehydration solution should be encouraged to drink water. They may also be given diluted drinks such as:

  • diluted cordial 10ml + 150ml water
  • diluted soft drink 50ml + 150ml water
  • diluted fruit juices 50ml + 150ml water

The aim is to give as much fluid as normal as well as replacing the fluid that is being lost. As a guideline:

  • children aged less than  two years should be given 50ml every 30 minutes while awake
  • older children can be given 50-100ml every 30 minutes

The fluids should be given slowly, eg. one teaspoonful every 1-2 minutes for a child aged less than two years. If the child vomits, wait ten minutes, then give the fluid more slowly, eg. one teaspoonful every 2-3 minutes.

Breastfeeding should be continued whenever possible. Offer the breast more often and give babies boiled water between feeds.

If bottle feeding, offer oral electrolyte solutions or other suitable fluids first (see above). If the child is hungry, offer normal strength formula as well and allow the child to eat food.

Weight loss may occur if feeding is not continued. Therefore, food should be re-introduced within 24 hours, even if the diarrhoea has not settled. Suitable foods include bread, plain biscuits, potatoes, rice, noodles, vegetables, plain meats, fish and eggs. Other foods such as dairy foods and sweet foods such as jelly, honey and jam can be gradually re-introduced.

Fluids and drugs that are not recommended

  • Undiluted fruit juice and cordial, or fizzy drinks, "sports drinks’ or "energy drinks’ may make the diarrhoea or dehydration worse.
  • Drugs to stop the vomiting or diarrhoea are not recommended because they may slow down the recovery of the bowel and cause serious side effects.
  • Antibiotics may prolong the infection and are rarely needed except for certain bacterial or parasitic infections.

Source: Queensland Health9

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Self care

  • Diarrhoea usually gets better in a day or two. If you have stomach cramps, try a hot water bottle or wheat pack on your tummy, or take paracetamol (such as Panadol).
  • If you or your child has a rash (like a nappy rash) from the diarrhoea, use zinc and castor oil ointment or a barrier cream. Make sure the skin is clean and dry before you apply this.
  • Some painkillers (called NSAID - such as aspirin, ibuprofen, diclofenac) can cause diarrhoea - so don’t take these when you have it.
  • There are medicines that stop diarrhoea (like Imodium) - but in doing this they also stop your body from getting rid of the bacteria or virus that has caused the diarrhoea. They can also cause a blockage in your bowel, so it is best to avoid using them unless you really can't cope with the diarrhoea.

Source: New Zealand Health10

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Infants (up to one year)

If your baby is dehydrated, this is what to do:

  1. Start with clear fluids or a rehydration drink such as Pedialyte or Gastrolyte.
  2. Alternate feeds of rehydration solution with breast milk or formula.
  3. Go back to your baby’s normal diet as soon as they have no signs of dehydration (they’re passing urine and their skin relaxes when pinched). This will help them recover more quickly and not lose as much weight. If your baby eats solids, start off with starchy foods such as baby rice, bread, mashed potatoes and bananas.

Source: New Zealand Health11

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Children and adults

If you or your child is dehydrated, this is what to do:

  1. Start with clear fluids, such as water, clear soup or a rehydration drink like Gastrolyte or Pedialyte. You can also use sports drinks containing electrolytes, such as Powerade, diluted 50/50 with water. (Try freezing the rehydration drink into iceblocks if your child doesn’t like the taste.)
  2. Adults should aim for two to three litres of fluid a day (unless your doctor has told you to restrict fluids for some reason).
  3. Avoid drinks containing a lot of sugar (like soft drinks) because they can make your diarrhoea worse. Diluted apple juice is OK, but no other fruit juices.
  4. Avoid foods that are high in fibre (like bran), whole fruits (except bananas) and vegetables, spicy or fatty foods, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks (like coffee or tea).
  5. Eat starchy foods that are easily absorbed - such as bread, crackers, rice, pasta, noodles and mashed potatoes. Chicken (with the skin removed) and bananas are also good.

Source: New Zealand Health12

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How you can treat diarrhoea yourself

Diarrhoea should go away on its own within a few days. It's normal to also have stomach cramps.

It's important that you drink enough fluids to avoid dehydration. Your pee should be light yellow or clear.

As soon as you feel able to eat, go back to your normal diet.

If you have a high temperature of 38C or more, take painkillers like paracetamol.

Source: NHS Choices UK13

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A pharmacist can help with diarrhoea

You can take medicines to help reduce the diarrhoea and shorten how long it lasts. But you don't have to take these and they won't cure your diarrhoea.

Describe your symptoms to the pharmacist. They can recommend the best medicine for you.

Frail or elderly people can dehydrate more easily. You can get sachets with salt, sugar and minerals at the pharmacy, which you can use in addition to your normal diet. They're called oral rehydration solutions.

Source: NHS Choices UK14

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Babies and toddlers: treating diarrhoea

You can often safely look after your baby or toddler at home. But it's very important to watch out for signs of dehydration.

Babies and toddlers can become dehydrated more quickly than older children when they have diarrhoea and vomiting.

If dehydration becomes severe, it can be dangerous, particularly in young babies.

Do

  • give them enough to drink in small sips - they dehydrate very quickly
  • continue breastfeeding or formula as normal
  • to ease the pain, you can give liquid paracetamol for children
  • if your child is eating solid foods, offer them their usual food if they want it

Don't

  • give them medicines to stop the diarrhoea
  • give them fruit juice and fizzy drinks (they can make the diarrhoea worse)

Source: NHS Choices UK15

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Oral rehydration solution is a special powder that you make into a drink. It contains sugar and salts to help replace the water and salts lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.

Children who are vomiting should keep taking small sips of clear fluid, such as water or clear broth. Fruit juice and fizzy drinks should be avoided until they're feeling better. If they're not dehydrated and haven't lost their appetite, it's fine for your child to eat solid foods as normal.

Again, speak to your GP or pharmacist if you're concerned about dehydration. They may recommend an oral rehydration solution for your child. Contact your GP or practice nurse if your child is unable to hold down oral rehydration solution.

If your child has diarrhoea and is vomiting, they shouldn't go to school or any other childcare facility until 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting.

Read more about treating gastroenteritis in children.

Source: NHS Choices UK16

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Do’s

  • Ensure the case is excluded.
  • Do encourage staff and children to practice good hand hygiene at all times.
  • Notify your local Health Protection Team if there are more cases than normally expected.

Source: GOV.UK17

Treatments for Diarrhea

Probiotics: Some evidence suggests that probiotics may relieve diarrhea, ease irritable bowel syndrome and reduce symptoms of atopic eczema, an itchy skin condition usually seen in infants. Probiotics generally have few side effects, but there’s little data about their long-term safety.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)18

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References

  1. Source: NIAID (NIH): niaid.nih.gov/ diseases-conditions/ e-coli-treatment
  2. Source: CDC Parasites: cdc.gov/ parasites/ crypto/ general-info.html
  3. Source: NIDDK (NIH): niddk.nih.gov/ health-information/ digestive-diseases/ diarrhea/ all-content
  4. ibid.
  5. ibid.
  6. ibid.
  7. ibid.
  8. Source: Queensland Health: conditions.health.qld.gov.au/ HealthCondition/ condition/ 14/ 33/ 39/ diarrhoea-in-young-children
  9. ibid.
  10. Source: New Zealand Health: health.govt.nz/ your-health/ conditions-and-treatments/ diseases-and-illnesses/ diarrhoea
  11. ibid.
  12. ibid.
  13. Source: NHS Choices UK: nhs.uk/ conditions/ Diarrhoea/ 
  14. ibid.
  15. ibid.
  16. Source: NHS Choices UK: nhs.uk/ conditions/ vomiting-children-babies/ 
  17. Source: GOV.UK: gov.uk/ government/ publications/ health-protection-in-schools-and-other-childcare-facilities/ chapter-9-managing-specific-infectious-diseases
  18. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): newsinhealth.nih.gov/ issue/ sep2013/ capsule2

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.