How to Stop Diarrhea: Tips For Relief

Diarrhea is a common problem across the globe. 

Diarrhea is when there are three or more passages of loose or liquid stools per day. 

The frequency may vary depending on what is typical for the individual. 

Usually, diarrhea is a symptom of a gastrointestinal (GI) infection. 

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can cause GI infections, usually via contaminated food or drinking water. It can sometimes spread from person to person due to poor hygiene. 

Anyone who has had diarrhea will know that it is an unpleasant experience. 

Common accompanying signs and symptoms are abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. If an infection causes diarrhea, other symptoms, such as fever, may occur. 

Diarrhea can be acute, persistent, or chronic, depending on how long they last.

Acute diarrhea lasts 1-2 days and usually resolves independently, while persistent diarrhea lasts 2-4 weeks. They could be caused by an infection or a side effect of certain medications. 

Some people may experience diarrhea when traveling abroad, also known as travelers’ diarrhea. Travelers’ diarrhea usually happens to people who are traveling to developing countries and consuming contaminated food or water. 

Chronic diarrhea lasts at least four weeks. The symptoms may be continuous or intermittent, which means they come and go. 

Usually, chronic diarrhea happens because of an underlying disease such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or celiac disease. 

Acute diarrhea is more common than persistent or chronic diarrhea. Studies have reported about 179 million cases of acute diarrhea annually in the United States. 

Treatment to stop diarrhea depends on the type of diarrhea. Read on to find out different ways to stop diarrhea.

How to Stop Acute Diarrhea

Acute diarrhea can be treated using over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. However, if you are experiencing blood in your stools, fever, or diarrhea lasting more than two days, you should not take OTC medicines. 

Instead, you should see a doctor because these could be signs of a bacterial or parasitic infection. 

Children should not be given OTC medicines meant for adults. If your child’s diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours, immediately consult a doctor. 

Meanwhile, you can give your child their usual age-appropriate diet. You can feed your infant breast milk or formula as usual.

Some examples of OTC medicines are: 

1. Loperamide (Imodium)

Loperamide works by slowing down and restoring the regular movements of your guts, hence stopping diarrhea. If you take loperamide, stay below the maximum dose on the label unless specifically instructed by your doctor. 

Loperamide’s maximum approved adult daily dose is 8 mg daily for OTC use. Taking more than the recommended dose can lead to heart complications in some people.

2. Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate) 

Bismuth subsalicylate is an antacid and anti-diarrheal agent used to relieve diarrhea and other short-term discomforts of the GI tract, such as indigestion. 

However, you should not take this medication if you have gastrointestinal ulcerations or hemophilia or are on anticoagulants, sulfinpyrazone, probenecid, methotrexate, or any drugs with high salicylate concentrations. If you are unsure, please consult your doctor.

How to Stop Diarrhea (Persistent or Chronic) 

The treatment of persistent and chronic diarrhea depends on the cause. If your diarrhea lasts more than two days, you should immediately see a doctor. 

Your doctor will perform some tests on you to determine the cause of the diarrhea. You may be asked to provide a stool or blood sample for testing. 

Other procedures may include imaging techniques, colonoscopy, or endoscopy if required. The treatment of diarrhea depends, again, on its cause(s):

1. Antibiotics or anti-parasitic medications 

If bacterial or parasitic infections cause your diarrhea, your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics or anti-parasitic medications to eliminate the causative microbes. 

You should complete the course of antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor to prevent antibiotic resistance. 

2. Food and drug avoidance

Food intolerance, autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, and medication use can also cause diarrhea. 

Some people may have intolerance towards certain foods, such as lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance. 

Some people may also have an autoimmune condition called celiac disease, where their cells will attack their own bodies when they consume gluten. 

Certain medicines can also cause diarrhea (such as laxatives, certain antibiotics, and antacids). 

Your doctor may also offer certain treatment trials, such as:

  • Changing your diet for a possible food allergy or problem absorbing nutrients 
  • Stopping an offending medicine 

The treatment for chronic diarrhea aims to manage the underlying cause, firm up the stool, and reduce any diarrhea-related complications. 

3. Low FODMAP diet

Adopting a low FODMAP diet is another way to prevent diarrhea. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly. 

People with certain problems like IBS or other intestinal problems like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can experience diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal cramps after eating them. 

It can help stop diarrhea by identifying and eliminating foods causing it. Your healthcare team may advise you to follow a low FODMAP diet by following these 3 steps:

  • Avoiding high FODMAP foods such as wheat, onions, garlic, asparagus, lentils, sorbitol (a sweetener), yogurt, and buttermilk
  • Gradually reintroducing them to find out which one triggers diarrhea 
  • Once the offending food is identified, you can avoid or limit them to prevent or stop diarrhea

The long-term goal of a low FODMAP diet is to find the balance between symptomatic improvements and avoiding adverse outcomes of dietary restriction.

4. Medications to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)

If you are diagnosed with IBD, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, your doctor will treat you depending on your disease’s severity, pattern, and site. 

The treatment of IBD should be individualized based on patient preference, the patient’s previous response, and tolerance to therapy. 

Consult your doctor to know more about your disease and management plan. They may start you on medications such as: 

  • 5-aminosalicylate (5-ASA) and sulfapyridine
  • Corticosteroids (hydrocortisone or prednisolone)
  • Immunosuppressants (azathioprine, methotrexate, or cyclosporine)
  • Biologics such as TNF-alpha blockers (infliximab, adalimumab, golimumab, or certolizumab pegol)

5. Probiotics

Your doctor may also recommend probiotics, especially if your diarrhea is associated with certain antibiotics use. 

Probiotics are live microorganisms such as bacteria similar to those that normally live in your digestive tract. 

You should consult your doctor before taking any probiotics or complementary medicines. Ask your doctor how much and how long you should take probiotics. 

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How Can I Prevent Diarrhea?

You can prevent diarrhea caused by rotavirus, travelers’ diarrhea, and foodborne illnesses by:

1. Hand hygiene

You can reduce your chances of getting or spreading infections that can cause diarrhea by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for 15 to 30 seconds after using the bathroom, after changing diapers, and before and after handling or preparing food.

2. Check food and drinking water sources while traveling

To reduce the chances of getting travelers’ diarrhea when traveling to developing countries, opt to drink bottled water, soft drinks, and hot drinks such as coffee or tea made with boiling water. 

You can also be careful of or avoid the following:

  • using tap water to make ice, prepare food and drinks, or brush your teeth
  • drinking juice or milk that has not been pasteurized or heated to kill harmful microbes
  • eating street food, raw vegetables, and fruits
  • eating meat, fish, or shellfish that is raw, undercooked, or not served hot

If you are concerned about getting travelers’ diarrhea, discuss it with your doctor before traveling. 

They may recommend taking antibiotics before and during a trip to help prevent travelers’ diarrhea. 

Early treatment with antibiotics can prevent or reduce the severity of travelers’ diarrhea.

3. Food safety 

You can prevent foodborne illnesses that cause diarrhea by storing, cooking, cleaning, and handling food properly and safely. 

Some methods to handle food safely are:

  • Keep high-risk food such as eggs, dairy, meat, and seafood below 5 °C or above 60 °C
  • Store food in suitable, covered containers.
  • Avoid refreezing thawed foods.
  • Check and observe the use-by dates on food products 
  • Separate raw and cooked
  • Cook food thoroughly

4. Rotavirus vaccination 

Rotavirus, which causes viral gastroenteritis, especially amongst infants, can be vaccinated against. 

The vaccines have reduced the number of cases of rotavirus and hospitalizations due to rotavirus among children worldwide. You can discuss rotavirus vaccination with your doctor. 

What Are The Dangers of Diarrhea?

The key concerns of diarrhea are dehydration and malabsorption. Chronic or severe diarrhea can lead to serious complications if left untreated. 

While you are being evaluated or waiting for your diarrhea to stop, you can take the following steps to relieve any further discomfort and prevent dehydration: 

  • Drink plenty of fluids such as water, fruit juices, clear broths, and sports drinks
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Avoid fatty or greasy foods
  • If available, drink adequate oral rehydration solution (approximately 8 oz, 12 times a day)
  • Avoid dairy products such as milk, cream, and cheese 
  • Avoid spicy foods

You are drinking enough fluids if your urine is a light yellow color. If you cannot drink enough fluids and become dehydrated, doctors may insert an intravenous (IV) line to pass fluids into your vein. 

IV fluids can prevent dehydration by replacing the fluids and electrolytes (salts) lost in diarrhea. However, it will not cure your diarrhea. 


Methods to prevent or stop diarrhea can vary depending on its severity and causes. Acute diarrhea can be relieved by OTC medicines like loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate. Persistent or chronic diarrhea will require professional medical attention to determine its causes. 

Other ways to stop diarrhea are avoiding certain food, practicing food safety and hand hygiene, and getting vaccinated against rotavirus. 

Stopping diarrhea quickly is essential to prevent dehydration and other complications.  

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