In most cases of diarrhea, the only treatment necessary is replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration.
Over-the-counter medicines such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate) may help stop diarrhea in adults. However, people with bloody diarrhea—a sign of bacterial or parasitic infection—should not use these medicines. If diarrhea is caused by bacteria or parasites, over-the-counter medicines may prolong the problem, so doctors usually prescribe antibiotics instead.
Medications to treat diarrhea in adults can be dangerous for infants and children and should only be given with a doctor’s guidance.
Eating, Diet, and Nutrition
Until diarrhea subsides, avoiding caffeine and foods that are greasy, high in fiber, or sweet may lessen symptoms. These foods can aggravate diarrhea. Some people also have problems digesting lactose during or after a bout of diarrhea. Yogurt, which has less lactose than milk, is often better tolerated. Yogurt with active, live bacterial cultures may even help people recover from diarrhea more quickly.
As symptoms improve, soft, bland foods can be added to the diet, including bananas, plain rice, boiled potatoes, toast, crackers, cooked carrots, and baked chicken without the skin or fat. For children, the health care provider may also recommend a bland diet. Once the diarrhea stops, the health care provider will likely encourage children to return to a normal and healthy diet if it can be tolerated. Infants with diarrhea should be given breast milk or full-strength formula as usual, along with oral rehydration solutions. Some children recovering from viral diarrheas have problems digesting lactose for up to a month or more.
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