Diarrhea is an unpleasant ailment that is quite common and can cause discomfort, dehydration, frequent trips to the restroom and loss of electrolytes. There are two basic forms: acute diarrhea and chronic diarrhea, each with varying causes and treatments. Most cases of diarrhea are short-term acute cases that can be effectively managed with at-home remedies and dietary changes; however chronic diarrhea may be a symptom of an underlying medical issue, or may require medication; therefore people who suffer from chronic diarrhea should consult with their doctor.
The first line of treatment for diarrhea is to determine the cause, if possible. For example, acute diarrheal episodes can be caused by sensitivities to specific foods, certain prescription medications, viral infections or food poisoning. Therefore, treating acute diarrhea can be as simple as switching medications, avoiding particular foods or focusing on staying hydrated as a virus runs its course. Absorbents, bismuth compounds and anti-motility medications are examples of over-the-counter diarrhea treatments that can provide relief for some people suffering from diarrhea.
The most common absorbents are polycarbophil and attpulgite, which treat diarrhea by binding with water to make stools less watery. Other diarrhea treatments are anti-motility medications such as loperamide (Imodium) slow down movement in the intestines by relaxing the muscles, which allows for increased water absorption, resulting in less watery stools. Bismuth compounds, such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), have some anti-bacterial qualities and provide a protective coating that alleviates symptoms and allows the gut to heal. Prescription anti-motility medications, such as diphenoxylate, are also available for diarrhea treatment.
In cases of acute diarrhea that do not require medical attention, staying hydrated and eating foods that will not further irritate your digestive system are key factors in managing a short-term episode. Drink plenty of water and avoid spicy, rich or fatty foods during the episode and for a few days after. Both children and adults may benefit from adopting the popular BRAT diet to assist with diarrhea management, which includes bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast. Foods that are high in probiotics, such as yogurt, are also recommended for the treatment of diarrhea, and the use of oral rehydrating solutions (ORS) such as Ceralyte, that contain carbohydrates and electrolytes can help maintain hydration.
Herbal remedies used in the treatment of diarrhea include dandelion, fenugreek, skullcap and goldenseal, which can be purchased in tea or capsule form at most health food stores. The abdominal discomfort and cramping that generally accompanies diarrhea can often be alleviated with chamomile or peppermint teas, which have the added benefit of assisting in increasing water consumption to avoid dehydration.
Probiotics may also assist in the treament of diarrhea and also assist in the healing afterwards as it restores the good bacteria which may have been killed off as a result of the underlying cause of diarrhea.
Medical treatment may be necessary for chronic diarrhea, persistent acute diarrhea or severe dehydration. For example, in some cases of severe dehydration caused by diarrhea, intravenous rehydration may be used to replace lost fluids, and testing and observation may be required to determine the cause of chronic or persistent diarrhea in order to determine a treatment plan.
In most cases, effective diarrhea treatment can be managed at home and most diarrheal episodes will subside within a few days. For long-term or repeated episodes, you should consult with your doctor to ensure that there are no underlying medical issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or colon cancer.